Fabulous Frogs!

SBA MUSEUM (18)Frogs are fabulous, its official! Even some of the very poorly kids from Manchester Children’s Hospital couldn’t help but raise a smile at the antics of some of the amphibians we took over there this week, which was so wonderful to witness. That super initiative, Culture Shots, was a pure pleasure to be involved with.

Another pleasure we are lucky enough to be involved in is the widespread sharing of information about these fabulous creatures. This is done on many levels, from using the museum’s live collection for our baby explorer programmes at the museum, to teaching on the field courses we run for undergraduate students in the tropics..

- all are geared up for opening a window of wonderment to the world of nature, and providing an insight into some of the marvellous creatures that so many people know very little about.

Isn’t it cool when you experience something that changes your perception… true growth that can sometimes lead you on a different path in life, if the impact resonates strongly enough within..

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Sir David Attenbrough with Splendid leaf Frog in Manchester                 (c) Andrew Gray

Today I would like to invite you to watch the latest offering from Sir David Attenborough, filmed with him in our Vivarium here at the Manchester Museum. This is a link that enables you to preview the whole episode online for a week or so, and if you miss it you will have to wait a while to see it on the BBC.

Obviously I already think frogs are fabulous, but after watching this amazing programme I hope you will too..

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/fabulous-frogs/full-episode/8948/


 

Fabulous_Frog_QRCode copyPlease note: For interaction with the vivarium’s new mobile phone or iPad ‘Fabulous Frogs’ app, specially developed by Mimas with us for ages up to 11 year olds, the steps are as follows:

- Download Junaio for free from App Store (Apple) or Play Store (Android)

- Make sure you device has internet access

- Click onto the Junaio logo (once downloaded)

- Press the Scan button and scan the Fabulous_Frog_QRCode.png (above left)

- Click on the Splendid Leaf frog trigger image kindly provided by Chris Mattison, to fully open it (image below)

- Hover the iPad or phone over the trigger image to view the interactive content.

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Southern sculptures

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Mark Mandica by Giant living sculpture of Agalychnis lemur (C) Mark Mandica

This week I visited the wonderful Botanical Gardens in Atlanta, Georgia. Its many years since I was last there and the place is as beautiful as ever. Atlanta Botanical Gardens is set in 30 Acres of parkland and is a non-profit organisation that aims to develop and maintain plant collections for display, education, research, conservation and enjoyment. We first started working with ABG when Ron Gagliardo first developed their superb amphibian collection.

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Giant Living sculpture of Gastrotheca cornuta (c) Atlanta Botanical Gardens

Today, Mark Mandica (above) is leading the way with the exceptional amphibian conservation collection at ABG, and meeting him this week was a real pleasure. He is a super nice guy and extremely committed to their collection, which includes a wide variety of rare Panamanian and South American tree frog species such as Anotheca spinosa, Agalychnis lemur, and  Gastrotheca cornuta. Walking through the gardens towards the Fuqua Conservatory, where the frogs are housed, I couldn’t help but be wowed by some of the amazing giant plant sculptures which feature in their new exhibition – the tree frogs were obviously first to catch my eye!

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The Fringed Leaf Frog, Cruziohyla craspedopus (c) Andrew Gray/Manchester Museum

 

Located within the entrance to the tropical conservatory are several naturalistic exhibits containing a wide variety of rare frogs that also feature in the major frog conservation program based at ABG. Frogs on display included the Fringed Leaf Frog,Cruziohyla craspedopus, a rare species with its own highly sculptured legs that we are also now lucky enough to be working with again in Manchester.

The centerpiece of the high elevation tropical House at ABG was a massive waterfall surrounded with brilliantly flowering orchids and exotic bromeliads. Poison dart frogs constantly called around me as I wandered around this wonderful tropical setting, and Mark pointed out pools of water absolutely full of developing tadpoles, which were clearly thriving under such naturalistic conditions.

I would like to recommend anyone visiting Atlanta to go to the Botanical Gardens and experience this wonderful place for themselves. I would also very much like to thank Mark Mandica, ABG, and Ron Gagliardo for all their continuing valued support.

Fogpodblog     Manchester Frogs to USA    Amphibian Conservation at ABG

Tree snakes

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Cat-eyed tree snake of the genus Leptodiera                       (c) Andrew Gray

Tree snakes come in many colours and sizes, and most are highly nocturnal. In Costa Rica I come across many species, both venomous, like the beautiful Eyelash Viper, or non-venomous, such as the many active snakes that can be found living around aquatic breeding sites, where lizards sleep on their perches and night-time frogs are active.

At the moment I am teaching at La Selva Biological Research Station and during my time here have been supervising several student projects focusing on the morphological adaptations seen in different frogs and snakes. The cat-eyed snakes of the genus Leptodiera are species commonly known to eat lizards, frogs, and even the eggs of the many tree frogs in the main swamp here.

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Yellow blunt-headed tree snake, Imantodes inornatus        (c) Andrew Gray

However, several other interesting species which fill a similar niche can also be found. Almost every night we have come across 1 or 2 species of Blunt-headed tree snake. Belonging to the genus Imantodes, these beautiful long snakes have huge eyes in comparison to their head size. Holding on with their long prehensile tails, these snakes silently manoeuvre their slender bodies between the slightest of twigs and branches.

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Head of Sibon longifrenis, showing eye camouflage detail (c) Andrew Gray

Last night we found 2 other tree snakes belonging to separate but closely aligned genera that behave in exactly the same way – one was Sibon longifrenis. These snakes really are beautiful, and being various shades of green and brown they are extremely well-camouflaged amongst the moss. As other tree snakes, even their eyes perfectly match their cryptic colour.

We were lucky enough to find a pair in one tree, but rather than tree frogs, or frogs eggs, these snakes actually feed only on snails and slugs. Their mouthparts are specially adapted to extract snails from shells. To observe this behaviour in action is a very special moment for any herpetologist.

OTHER SNAKES IN COSTA RICA                      TARA’S FAVOURITE SNAKES  :)

Vivarium Vacancy

IMG_1731Are you especially interested in working with live reptiles and amphibians, have a passion for supporting animal conservation, and would like to be part of one of the world’s leading university museums?

If so, then working in the Vivarium at Manchester Museum may be the job for you.  We are  currently looking for a Vivarium Curatorial Assistant, to work part-time (3 days per week). This specialist career opportunity working with live reptiles and amphibians is a rare opportunity for the right person to enter the world of  professional herpetology. We are looking for an individual who would enjoy supporting the conservation of our wonderful creatures and who would be committed to helping us maintain the highest levels of their daily husbandry.

We are looking for someone who also has meticulous standards and who prides themselves on attention to detail. You must have a caring attitude and have a genuine interest and experience in maintaining reptiles, amphibians, and their associated environments correctly. Work typically involves the daily maintenance, cleanliness and presentation of the public exhibits and service areas.

We do not take the keeping of animals in captivity lightly and so are dedicated to ensuring that all our live reptiles and amphibians are maintained in absolute optimum conditions.

At the moment I am away teaching so may not be able to answer general enquiries regarding the vacancy. However, to find out more information, or to actually apply, please visit:

https://www.jobs.manchester.ac.uk/displayjob.aspx?jobid=7604

Closing date: 11 July 2014

 

Costa Rican Course

IMG_8161aHere in Costa Rica I’m teaching on the field course with my highly knowledgable colleagues from the University of Manchester. Between us, and Alex Villegas, our Costa Rican bird specialist, we have almost all things covered. Apart from our students learning all about the flora and fauna, we too are learning lots from each other about our specialist subjects. We have a great team, and this year we also have great students, which is making the whole trip extremely enjoyable for all.

Whilst based at the Turrialtico we have been visiting local conservation initiatives, including night walks at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre and today at CATIE, the largest agricultural college in Central America, where the students even got to chill out (literally at -15C) in the seed bank.

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Neotropical weevil (c) Andrew Gray

Insects have dominated the first part of the course, with Dmitri our invertebrate specialist (Curator of Entomology at the Museum) and who is a world spider expert. We have had moth traps up at night and daytime searches for invertebrates of every shape, size and colour. He has taught us all so much already – and its been wonderful to have a glimpse into another zoological world!

 

The world of insects is an amazing one, and if you would like to find out more about Dmitri’s work and the wonderful invertebrate collection of Manchester Museum please visit his own great blog:

Entomology Manchester

 

The Annae and eye

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Yellow-eyed Leaf Frog, A. annae (c) Adam Bland

The Yellow-eyed Leaf Frog, Agalychnis annae, was described in 1963 due the yellow colour of its eye being recognised from specimens in the wild. Until then specimens of this species from Costa Rica were thought to belong to the species known as Agalychnis moreletii, another species occurring in Central America, because in alcohol preserved specimens (which lacked colour) looked exactly the same.

Eye coloration adds to the effectiveness of flash coloration used by Leaf frogs as a defence strategy and is also a defining taxonomic character of many species.

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A. lemur (Night)

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A. lemur (Day)

In some species, such as the Lemur Leaf Frog, Agalychnis Lemur, the eye colour can even change between day and night, adding to this frogs’ use of  cryptic coloration.

Splendid leaf frog eyes

The Splendid Leaf Frog, Cruziohyla calcarifer, actually has two colourations to its iris – yellow and grey. When sleeping this species has no nictating membrane to conceal bright coloration, so the centre, which is still visible, is the grey colour.

However, when it fully awakes the muscles around the eye expand and as the eye opens fully the yellow coloration now becomes visible, allowinging the striking bright eye coloration this species is known for. The same adaptation is is also shown in the sister species, Cruziohyla craspedopus. Find out more about these species’ eyes and read about Leaf frog eye coloration research by one of my past students here

Finding A. annae (Yellow-eyed Leaf Frog)      A. tarae (Blue-eyed Leaf Frog :)       

Elusive Ectophylla

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Group of Tent-making Bats (Uroderma bilobatum) in Costa Rica (c) Andrew Gray

In Costa Rica there are several species of bat known as ‘Tent Bats’, bats known to modify their direct habitats in order to create resting sites. They form ‘tents’ from rainforest leaves, upon which they have nibbled to create the perfect place to protect them from harsh sunlight, predators, and rain during the day. I have come across many tents bats whilst in Costa Rica, such as Uroderma bilobatum, which use palm leaves to hide underneath (pictured above).

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Honduran White Tent Bats, Ectophylla alba (c) Andrew Gray

However, one species rarely encountered are the white tent bats of the species Ectophylla alba, a unique fruit eating species belonging to a monotypic genus. These elusive bats chew away the side veins extending out from large heliconia plant leaves causing them to fold down to form the ‘tent’.

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Ectophylla alba (c) Andrew Gray

Unlike other tent bats, such as Uroderma bilobatum, these cling to the roof of the tent in very small colonies of only up to half a dozen individuals, consisting of one male and a harem of females. Until today, I have only come across them twice, once high in a plant which proved hard to get a view, and once close up in a mist net. However, to see these tiny beautiful bright yellow-eared bats again so close up was wonderful.

This time they were under a leaf  that was literally a metre from the ground, making it possible for me to observe them very closely without causing them any real disturbance – most tent-making bats take flight at even slight disturbances but these white bats will take flight only when the main stem of their tent is disturbed. This is possibly because they think they are so well camouflaged – and so they normally are, because as sunlight filters through the leaf it gives their white fur a greenish cast, almost completely concealing them from view.

Here is a short clip filmed today –  I hope you’ll enjoy seeing these bats too!

       Video of  Uroderma bats                Tara’s Tent Bat video              Shikaka    

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