Orquídeas de Mallorca


Yellow Bee Orchid, Ophrys lutea

Hi, Tom here. After a very busy year starting at Manchester University and moving house, I have become somewhat quiet here on the FrogBlog. However, I have just returned from a week’s fieldwork on comparative and adaptive biology on the sunny island of Mallorca, and felt this would be appropriate time for an orchid-filled return.


Mallorca is a rather unique island, with an interesting mix of European, African and Endemic species. The island owes its existence to uplifting of limestone rock due to micro-tectonics. The presence of this limestone has created a rather nutrient poor, alkaline environment, in which Orchids appear to thrive.

The main Orchids abundant on the limestone Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, in the north of Mallorca, is the genus, Ophrys. This genus is often referred to as the “Bee Orchids” because the lower petal, known as the Lebellum has been highly modified through millions of years of selection to imitate the thorax of a female bee, or wasp. This method of pollination is known as “sexually deception”, because the flower itself does not provide a nectar reward to its pollinator, but more of a devious misidentification for a bee trying to have an intimate time. Even more interestingly, the flower releases a chemical signal identical to a female insect’s pheromone, and once a male has been attracted to the flower of the Orchid, it attempts copulation. During this vigorous act, pollen is attached to the males head using a sticky appendage called a Pollinia.

Ophrys fusca (dyris)

Ophrys fusca (dyris)

Ophrys bombyliflora

Ophrys bombyliflora

As you can see from the images, each Ophrys species has co-evolved to mimic a specific insect. This specificity is rather adaptively disadvantages, as with the British O. apifera, the bee that once pollinated it has become extinct in the UK.


Fortunately the pollinators are still abundant in Mallorca, and as part of my fieldwork I counted the presence of pollinia within the flowers of O. bombilyflora, O. lutea and O. speculum, and whether their flowers had or hadn’t been visited by an eager male bee. What we discovered was that no matter what size the population of Orchids was at different sites approximately 20% would have been visited by bees.

Ophrys species also show a high degree of variance between individuals. The flowers may exhibit completely different coloured petals, or Lebellums of distinctly different shapes. One highly variable species is O. fusca, which was observed at several locations, the specimen photographed may represent the subsp. dyris, but this is uncertain. Another species, O. speculum, is by far the most spectacular of Mallorca’s Ophrys, with its brightly coloured blue mirror and fuzzy perimeter. Although this species doesn’t show much variance, we unexpectedly stumbled across an example that had a rare mutation for albinism. Early in the week a specimen was observed with a white mirror, but this one exhibited a completely un-pigmented flower. This incredibly rare specimen was the pinnacle of a great week, of flowers, fun and Mediterranean sun.

Herbology Manchester      Manchester Museum – Plants     FLS – Fieldcourses

Ophrys speculum "albiflora"

Ophrys speculum “albiflora”

Ophrys speculum

Ophrys speculum

Fitness for the Ark

Trinidadian Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa trinitatis, at Manchester Museum

Trinidadian Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa trinitatis, at Manchester Museum (c) Luiza Pasos

Although we all agree wild animals belong in the wild, it is still becoming increasing common for ex-situ captive breeding being used as a back-up conservation plan. However, although much efforts are put into establishing such initiatives, we are only now beginning to fully assess their viability so far as it becoming a really useful tool for successfully reintroducing amphibians back to the wild.

At the moment here in Manchester we are studying the effects of captivity on several species using a variety of different methods in order to try and quantify the changes that occur in captive-bred and reared animals compared to wild stocks, all with a view to understanding how we can ensure their natural characteristics and behaviours can be retained. Phylommedusine frogs have characters and behaviours that already set them apart from other amphibians so they make particularly interesting models when studying these aspects. Currently we have 2 PhD students studying different species in the vivarium, one focusing on changes to frog skin pigments in captivity, and the other their fitness and changes to their anti-predator responses.

tgrl9cJyU2bHE8MRqzGBFIf4Yzi86KZGh8TqVKJwgyELuiza Pasos focuses her studies on amphibian and reptile behaviour and ecology, and after completing her Masters, she initially decided to move to the Brazilian Amazon and work in a community based project relating to the sustainable management of the Black Caiman, Melanosuchus niger.

Now conducting further research for her PhD with Salford University, Luiza is comparing the behaviour of the Trinidadian Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa trinitatis, a close relative of another species found where she is from in Brazil.


The non-invasive research work in the vivarium involves assessing animals being maintained in different conditions, and it is hoped that Luiza’s study will provide us with a much better understanding of the effects a variety of husbandry techniques have on the captive animals so we can best retain their natural instincts, wild state of health, and maintain them in the best possible conditions so they are fit for the future.

Luiza’s Phd research is supported by Science Without Borders, a wonderful supportive academic initiative by the Brazilian Government.

 Luiza’s research     Chris’s research    Science Without Borders      Salford Uni

Happy Easter!


Newborn chameleon loves the leaves made by pupils of Trinity and St Michaels.

Most people associate Easter with the birth of spring lambs and chicks – but in our house its something different..  Last week we had an unexpected surprise – the birth of 12 baby Jackson’s chameleons! After months of speculation as to whether our pigmy female was just fat with wind, she finally gave birth. What an amazing sight, the tiniest of chameleons, everywhere!

Last week was a fantastic week in many ways, ending in the BHS herpetological symposium, which was very well received. It was a pleasure hosting it and I would sincerely like to thank all those who attended, the other speakers, and the BHS for their most welcome support of our Lemur Frog Project.


Chameleon by Esmee, Reception, Trinity and St Michaels

Midweek, I also had the opportunity to teach at a local school, and share all about Costa Rica, one of my favourite places. The whole school welcomed me and all the pupils and staff were absolute stars. It was wonderful to teach so many enthusiastic and well-behaved children. It really was a pleasure to visit Trinity and St Michaels Primary School with all the animals. Thank you so much to all the children who have shown their appreciation, I loved the card! Maybe more from them soon, but for now, let me sure some of their pics and from us and our new baby chameleons, we wish you all a Very Happy Easter!

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TRINITY AND ST MICHAELS                BHS                  MUJI CHAMELEONS

Herpetological Symposium

logoManchester Museum is proud to be hosting the British Herpetological Society’s 2015 symposium, incorporating their AGM and a number of herpetological talks. This is the first time the BHS has held an AGM outside London and this particular event is open to both non-members and BHS members, which now total over 600.

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Established in 1947, the British Herpetological Society is one of the most prestigious herpetological societies in the world, with their journal ranked as one of the leading scientific publications devoted to herpetology. Via publications, specialist committees and meetings, the society actively supports the conservation of native British species, field studies and conservation management work worldwide, scientific research, and the responsible captive breeding and maintenance of reptile and amphibian species.

They also actively support the exchange of knowledge and expertise between enthusiasts and herpetologists both in the UK and around the world, so this particular event is aimed at just that. Joining us on the day we have one of our very own Professors from the Faculty of Life Sciences, Richard Preziosi, and the Curator of lower vertebrates and vertebrates at Chester Zoo, Dr Gerardo Garcia, who will both be talking about their herpetological research and conservation work.

IMG_1729Attendees will also not only have the opportunity to visit our recently reinterpreted vivarium  exhibits, but during my talk they will also have the chance to see first hand many rare and endangered amphibians normally kept behind the scenes at the museum.

Join us for a day of herpetology, next Saturday, the 28th March. Admission is free.


The Green Machine

Recently Tara and I experienced ‘The Green Machine’ – no, not a new environmentally-friendly Aston Martin :), but a wonderful supplier of the most amazing aquatic plants, and the UK specialist in Aquascaping.

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The Green Machine is an aquatics store based in Cheshire that supplies high end, state of the art, aquariums and related equipment. We found it to be full of beautiful displays and a very cool place to visit. From the minute we walked through the door we were inspired by what we saw, and we also found the staff to be absolutely brilliant – so friendly and knowledgeable about the subject, we would definitely describe them as real experts in aquascaping. Its an amazing place.

Tropica plants

Top quality Tropica plants available at The Green Machine. (c) Andrew Gray

As well as being able to give some excellent practical advice in the most modern aquarium and aquatic plant keeping techniques, they also provide everything from the best quality aquariums, lighting, etc, as well a truly amazing selection of top quality aquatic plants.

Aquascaping itself is creating a small, totally natural, section of tropical riverbank within the confines of your own home. The vision of these guys is to change the face of aquatics in the UK into it becoming more of an art form. The emphasis of that art being the beautiful landscape seen within the aquarium, that is totally in harmony with nature. After visiting The Green Machine, we feel sure they are well on their way to achieving their vision.



Treasure Tibet

Nanorana pleskei; Tibetan Frog

Nanorana sp (c) Todd Pierson, kind permission of for frogblogmanchester.com

The evolution of Tibetan frogs belonging to the genus Nanorana parallels the geological changes that have occurred in the area, and thus adapted many millions of years ago to be able to survive in cold, high altitude, oxygen-poor conditions. Tibet itself, its flora and fauna, its landscapes, and particularly its people, with their unique spiritual culture, are distinctly special.

Tibet was declared independent from China over 100 years ago, but what effects Tibet today started with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army invading it in 1950. Hundreds of thousands of Monks, Nuns and civilians were imprisoned or killed for wearing traditional hairstyles and clothing, engaging in traditional song or dance, or voicing their religious beliefs. Any related rituals were strictly prohibited and anything representing the cultural identity of the Tibetan people was eradicated.

438March 10th is an important date for Tibetans, for on March 10th, 1959, thousands of Tibetans in Tibet rose up against China’s occupation of their country that had begun some 10 years previously. The uprising failed with huge loss of life, and the Dalai Lama was forced to escape into exile. Since that day, the anniversary of what became known as the Tibetan National Uprising has been marked by Tibetans in exile and – very often – by Tibetans in Tibet.

tibetan_1735964cThe Tibetan National Flag is now a symbol of freedom and resistance. It is still banned in Tibet today, but hundreds were defiantly flown throughout Tibet in the 2008 uprising, to amplify the people’s call for freedom. The flag is something that unites all Tibetans in their desire to help bring change on the ground inside Tibet.

So far, China has killed an estimated 1 million Tibetans, with 250,000 killed in prisons and labour camps. Their persecution continues. If you would like to help, then maybe you too would like to show your support for freedom and justice for Tibet and express solidarity with Tibetans inside Tibet by participating in the Tibet Freedom March and Rally this Saturday in London, or perhaps at one of the other events listed HERE.


Early Opening

kPh-zX7tG_e6BBwh1YwkD4S6UPn3LHvHd8d_phs46bw,-CUgrxPnKXa3knzkN0l-nfF8vqkCeuWnX7DXHbALajs,K_RanBGNEUEOSupQcqSFwNhkmdjd46PZoGRpniGRIxcOn Saturday the 14th of February I was privileged to be involved in the museum’s early opening for children with autism their families and carers. This month it was the turn of The Vivarium and Nature’s Library galleries to open up an hour early, during which time we ran a number of activities and handling tables to help make this event extra special.
I was able to introduce these lucky visitors to some animals from our collection, chiefly the royal python and some of our fire salamanders, who all proved to be big hits with everyone, even those who were a little scared at first were won over in the end.

KJgMJU6xQA4X4GyaChal8A_DYTIkZz29KkNatVdNMd0,Rr1rx8SoEHkhJz3aU1Zr9HAcV8ISH5YftVOyS8HTRW4,ZazjK0-xoxqMlvGwZCjebBBRE53YvAxExsmBBlcpDU4During normal opening hours the museum galleries can sometimes be a bit busy and overwhelming for these particular families and children, so it is brilliant to be able to offer these more personable opportunities to explore, learn and have fun in a more comfortable atmosphere.

As you can see from these pictures everyone, I myself included, had a great time and it was a real pleasure to take part.

Animals have a remarkable ability to connect and amaze all kinds of people and the joy they generate is something worth cherishing. A quick thank you is in order to all those who took part and who attended and helped make the morning such a success.


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All images courtesy of Joe Gardner ©.


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