Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory maintains a research department that encourages original research in the natural sciences. Our research serves to inform staff and visitors to the Nature Center and contributes new insights to the scientific knowledge base through academic publications and participation in scholarly meetings.

The Oregon Spotted Frog (Rana pretiosa)

The Oregon Spotted Frog is a candidate for listing as an endangered species. Sunriver is home to one of the greatest concentrations of Spotted Frogs in the frogs' range. This creates a unique opportunity to study the behavior of this amphibian throughout the year. Over the past 10 years, studies at the Nature Center have contributed a number of discoveries important to understanding the basic biology of this species.

Amphibian Deformities

Additional research at the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory has led to a better understanding the two most dramatic types of amphibian deformities--extra limbs and missing limbs. The studies produced the first report of extra-limb deformities in Spotted Frogs. It was found that this species generally avoids exposure to trematode parasites that cause extra limbs by reproducing very early in the year, before the parasites emerge in July and August. Research on site, published in the journal Ecology, showed conclusive evidence of small predators, such as stickleback fish and dragonfly larvae, removing the hind limbs of tadpoles, leading to large numbers of newly transformed frogs or toads that are missing all or part of a hind limb.

Parasites of Oregon Spotted Frogs

Patty Stenberg, a member of the Nature Center's research team, has found and described three kinds of blood parasites in Spotted Frogs, including an unknown species of Hepatozoon shown here inside a red blood cell. So far, no evidence has been found of serious problems for the frogs that would be caused by these parasites.

New Leech Species

While searching for the likely vectors of the blood parasites of Spotted Frogs, a leech commonly found on the frogs in the area was determined to be a previously undescribed species. Collaborations with Dr. Mark Siddall of the American Museum of Natural History, gave this leech the name Placobdella burresonae, and described the species in the Journal of Parasitology.

Chytrid Fungus in Amphibians

Over the past 10 years, a newly identified fungus has been implicated in mass die-offs of amphibians across the globe. Sunriver Nature Center researchers collaborated with researchers from other institutions to identify the wide-spread presence of the Chytrid Fungus in a number of amphibian species around Oregon, including native Western Toads, Spotted Frogs, Red-legged Frogs, and non-native Bullfrogs (which may be carriers of this pathogen).

Underwater Calls of Spotted Frogs

Through the use of a hydrophone, it was discovered that Oregon Spotted Frogs engage in a previously unknown behavior that involves calling while totally submerged. These calls are identical to previously described advertisement calls heard at the surface when the frogs gather to mate and lay eggs. However, the submerged calls may be given several days before the frogs gather at breeding sites and at distances up to half a mile from the breeding site. The call is shown here as a sonogram, showing a series of pulse with most of the sound energy between 500 and 1000 Hz.

Membership at SNCO

A large portion of the support needed to operate the Nature Center and Observatory comes from the generous support of our members. A membership at SNCO also has the benefit of free or discounted admission to over 300 Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) including over eight in Oregon alone.

ASTC Benefits

  • SNCO is an affiliate of ASTC, Association of Science - Technology Centers.
  • SNCO members can visit other ASTC facilities for free or at a discount. 

Go to Click on ASTC Passport Program where you can search for participating science centers and museums.*

*Please note that an ASTC membership from a participating organization other than SNCO will NOT let you into the Observatory Programs for free. ASTC membership is only for the Nature Center.

Starting in late June of 2017, Monday evenings will be an exclusive members only night at the Oregon Observatory, avoid the large summer crowds for a relaxed night of viewing!


Click here to support the organization by becoming a member today!


A significant portion of the yearly cost to operate the Sunriver Nature Center and Oregon Observatory comes from generous donations. In addition to monetary donations, all of the equipment used in the observatory has either been donated to us, or purchased using donations. Most of the expansion projects at the Nature Center & Observatory were undertaken through generous donations from the community.  Large donations can be directed towards projects that are of particular interest to you or applied towards the general fund or endowment.

We are also lucky enough to receive hundreds of smaller donations every year.  These are essential to the operation of the Nature Center and Observatory. These donations can be made as part of your membership renewal.

Donations go toward improving our existing facility, adding to our existing facility, and improving or maintaining current equipment. Below is a list of current projects the observatory is undertaking as well as some equipment or improvements the organization is looking to acquire to better educate the community.

Support the observatory by making a donation (this link will take you to an external site hosted by Blackbaud for altruistic designations)

Mission Statement for Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory

Our mission is to inspire present and future generations to cherish and understand our natural world. 

Vision Statement 

The Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory will be every person's gateway to an expanding world of information in the natural sciences. By focusing on education, research, and conservation, we will be recognized as Central Oregon's foremost authority on the natural sciences. Our financial base will be broad and diverse

 Value Statement

The Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory is committed to the pursuit of excellence. We believe the quality of the personal relationships shared by visitors, volunteers, and staff is imperative to our success as a viable organization. We adhere to the highest professional standards and value teamwork, communication, trust and respect. Our volunteers and staff are a team that value dedication, quality, honesty, integrity, responsibility, and creativity. We value and respect individual effort and personal growth, but it is as a team that progress is made and goals are met.