Talking Toads

photoWhilst Andrew was away in Costa Rica working on the future progression of Project Lemur Frog, back in The Vivarium at Manchester we were very busy as usual, especially during the recent half term break. Behind the scenes in The Vivarium we are well known for our work with Phyllomedusine frogs, these are the nocturnal leaf and monkey frogs that can be seen housed through our viewing window.

Although during this year Andrew and I have also be working with some particularly interesting species of toads from Central and South America.

M.klappenbachi amplexusToads come in all shapes and sizes and do not always have the stereotypical appearance many people associate with the name. One species housed off display in The Vivarium is the Bumble bee toad, Melanophryniscus klappenbachi.

This small species is an inhabitant of sub-tropical shrubland habitats within the Chaco region of Argentina and Paraguay. Unlike many toad species, they are diurnal, and much like a poison dart frog they are brightly coloured to act as a warning to potential predators. As their common name suggests this species is coloured with yellow and black; they also possess red flash markings beneath the hands and feet.

M.klappenbachi toadlet[1]

(c) Adam Bland

In the wild this species lives in a relatively dry habitat, which has a short winter period followed by a seasonal and short rain season.  Due to the availability of breeding sites being very limited to a matter of weeks after the rains, the eggs and tadpoles of this species have rapid development to ensure that they make it out of the water before the temporary pools completely dry up. Once spawned the eggs hatch within two days and the tadpoles metamorphose into small toads after two to three weeks.   We have had success in breeding this species in The Vivarium and currently have tadpoles developing in one of our rain chambers, and also small toaldlets from a previous breeding. When these toads metamorphose they are extremely small, barley over 5mm in total length and lack the bright colour seen in the adults.

The young toad pictured is over two months old and now showing adult colouration. Perhaps more surprising than the rapid tadpole development is the call of the male toads when breeding, their call is so loud that it could be heard in the gallery when they are housed off display, and males call non stop whilst in the breeding chamber fighting amongst themselves to compete for a female, which often results in louder calls!

Adam’s Page            Green Toads             Native Toads

Frogs and Physics

IMG_9613Since returning from Costa Rica I’ve have been busy teaching on several courses, including the University’s AGMS course. This is an Art Gallery and Museum studies Masters course for graduate students, and the session was a real pleasure to deliver.

This past week I have also been working in collaboration with my colleague from the Photon Science Institute, Mark Dickinson, to deliver an A-Level Study Day based around our frog research interests – and it’s been great fun for all involved! The session allowed students to get to learn all about how animals use colour, which has included investigating our live specimens from the vivarium and also spending time in the Photon Science Institute.

IMG_9607Following a morning sessions in the Museum, where the pupils got to learn all about the frogs and had an introduction to the physics behind the colour of animals, this afternoon  the pupils used hi-tech spectrometers, Infra-red cameras, and thermal imaging equipment. They learnt how the use of the equipment helps us to understand reptile thermoregulation and the optical properties of amphibian skin.

The collaboration draws on the expertise and resources of both our departments, and today supported the learning of students from Blue Coats School in Oldham.

 

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We hope everyone from the school enjoyed their visits and would like to say a big thank you to Emily Robinson, Kayleigh Rose, Francisco Herrerias, Hanna Radtke and Adam Bland who helped support the study days.

Blue Coats School             Photon Science Institute             Sun-loving frogs

Raining sheep frogs

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Sheep frog, Gastrophryne pictiventris (c) Andrew Gray

In many parts of the world there are some frogs that are typically named ‘Rain Frogs’. Several live in arid regions and only emerge when it rains, but in Costa Rica other frogs, those belonging to the genus ‘Eleutherodactylus’, also carry the same common name. Eleutherodactylid species are actually very common to find here, even when it’s not raining.

However, one species from another group of frogs found here, the Microhylids, I personally class as a real ‘rain frog’ – gastrophryne pictiventris. This species actually carries the unusual common name of ‘Sheep Frog’ – because the frog’s call sounds remarkably like a bleating sheep!

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Spot the sheep frog? (c) Andrew Gray

Unlike others, these frogs can only be found in the rainforest when it pours, emerging from the leaf litter where they spend most of their lives. As you might expect, they are extremely well-camoufaged and so are very difficult to find at any other time. For much of our time in Costa Rica its poured down with rain, but just before leaving and when we thought it was raining too hard for any frogs to show themselves:

 

La Selva – 100% Solar

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 16.47.40With an overall annual cost of $130,000, La Selva Biological research station’s energy needs are their largest operational costs, besides staffing. However, La Selva’s Director, Carlos de la Rosa, has been telling me that’s all about to change..

As electricity costs in Costa Rica rise a further 13%, Carlos has an exciting new sustainable strategy for La Selva, and the plan is going to transform the station from being an energy consumer to an an energy producer…

The go ahead has just been given for approximately 1,800 solar panels to be installed at La Selva, mostly over the parking lot, dinning hall, and offices, that will produce enough electricity to cover 100% of that which is being currently used by the station.

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 16.54.50As La Selva’s other green initiatives kick in, it means that in the future they will even have surplus energy to sell. The company working with them is Solar Ing, a Costa Rican company that has already supplied their solar water heaters to support a large dormitory. As a bonus, Solar Ing will even supply La Selva with the new solar panels at cost price as an appreciated part of their social responsibility.

This wonderful news is hot of the press and the initiative will be transformational for La Selva – OTS will now not only be leading the way in supporting the study of the natural world, but will be a leading organisation committed to real sustainability and a minimised carbon footprint.

 

 La Selva                    Solar Ing                 Social Responsibility

Claes’ Blue Jeans

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This past 2 weeks it has been my pleasure to share my interest in Costa Rican frogs with my good friend Claes, and we have seen many wonderful species; in the highlands, the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre, the Caribbean coast, and now at La Selva……One of the species Claes has been very pleased to see is one that we have not had to look too hard to find, the Strawberry Poison-dart Frog.

These frogs are found in many different colour forms, but here at La Selva is found probably the most iconic form of them all. As we got out of the car on arrival we could hear them calling everywhere, and to witness Claes’ reaction to first seeing one of these beautiful frogs in the flesh, here at La Selva, will be highly memorable.

 

Jewels of the Caribbean   Strawberry Fields    Sequirres form with black legs

Carlos de la Rosa

IN SWEDISH

Carlos de la Rosa by Jorge Novoa[1]Today Claes and I spent some inspirational time with Carlos de la Rosa, the Director of the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica. Here, he and his team run one of the most successful research and education field stations in the world, with between 250 -350 researchers from over 100 institutions visiting each year. Carlos oversees the management of the 1,600-hectare preserve and has also written several books and over 40 articles, papers and field guides on various aspects of science and conservation.

He kindly showed Claes and I the wonderful developing facilities for researchers and students here, which are now quite simply amazing. They include new PCR facilities for amplifying DNA and also new super efficient equipment for storing samples – all within a stones throw of being in the wonderful primary forest this fabulous research station is world renown for.

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Andrew, Carlos, and Claes

Carlos also explained about his particular specialism – aquatic insect ecology and taxonomy. His passion for sharing his interest in various aspects of science, conservation, and sustainability, is highly infectious and something really quite incredible.

A new project for him in this regard is a hands-on program of short courses for students involving real data collection that adds to real science and conservation. Below Carlos explains a little about the new programme, but if you are a teacher and would like to find out more information about these programs please contact him directly: carlos.delarosa@ots.cr

  

Carlos de la Rosa – Biography

Glass Frogs

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Costa Rican Glass Frog (c) Andrew Gray

In the Neotropics there are some species of small frog that have almost transparent bodies – in fact, if you shine a torch on them you can almost see straight through them!

Typically, most people know these as glass frogs. There are 13 species of glass frogs in Costa Rica and all share this transparent characteristic. Its always remarkable to look at a live frog and see its little red heart beating away, to see its internal organs from the outside, and to witness the bones and skeletal features backlit by your flashlight…

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Costa Rican Glass Frog, Hyalinobatrachium valerioi (c) Andrew Gray

 

My good friend Brian Kubicki has dedicated many years to studying these fascinating amphibians and is now the leading expert in Costa Rican glass frogs. These incredible creatures are associated with streams and Brian has not only been studying these frogs’ natural history but also attempting to gather as much information as possible on the alpha-level taxonomy, current distribution, and population status of all Costa Rica’s glass frogs.

 

If you would like to find out more about Brian’s work with glass frogs or might be interested in supporting his ongoing research please follow the link below this post.

Although we have seen several species of glass frog on this trip, including the beautiful Hyalinobatrachium valerioi at the CRARC, I thought you might also like to see the first little frog we came across tonight after we arrived at La Selva Biological Research Station –  another frog species that’s almost transparent when its young:

 

Costa Rican Glass Frogs      Support Glass Frog Research     Tara’s Glass Frog

 

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