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 ©.

Visit to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

Me outside frog podLast week I was spending time with Mark Mandica and his team at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.  Mark leads the Gardens amphibian conservation programme, which houses many endangered species of Panamanian Amphibians within their Frog Pod, a bio secure unit used to house and breed amphibians.  They lead on conservation breeding of the Panamanian Lemur Leaf Frog, as apposed to our Costa Rican population here at the Museum.

The Eyelash Marsupial Frog, Gastrotheca cornuta, at Atlanta Botanical Gardens (c) Adam Bland

The Eyelash Marsupial Frog, Gastrotheca cornuta, at Atlanta Botanical Gardens (c) Adam Bland

I spent much of my time working alongside Mark’s extremely focused team, which includes Dr Brad Wilson, who as well as working with the amphibians at the gardens is also the veterinary consultant for the Amphibian Ark.  One of the main purposes of this visit was to exchange ideas and learn new skills that I can now bring back to our work at The Vivarium in Manchester.

Opportunities such as this are essential for developing successful and mutual collaboration between our institutions, which are ultimately working towards the same goal: Amphibian conservation.

In the field with Mark Mandica

In the field with Mark Mandica

I would like to thank Leslie Phillips and Brad Wilson for their time during the past week, and a special thanks to Mark Mandica for organising such a great and busy week for me; from helping out in the frog pod to searching underneath logs for native salamanders, it really was an amazing visit!

                              Atlanta’s Frog Blog                        Amphibian Ark                     

Surveying Amphibians in South West Georgia USA

For the past week I have been working alongside Mark Mandica and his team at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, which boasts an impressive collection of neotropical frogs much like our own in Manchester.

Temporary Amphibian breeding site in South Georgia, USA (c) Adam Bland

Temporary Amphibian breeding site in South Georgia, USA (c) Adam Bland

You don’t have to be in the tropics to find areas with amazing reptile and amphibian diversity, as I have found this week whilst assisting with field surveys of native species in south Georgia, which the Atlanta Botanical Gardens is heavily involved in. We recently travelled to the far South West of Georgia to a protected area that is home to many reptiles and amphibians.

This is one of the sites where the Gopher frog (Rana capito), one of Georgia’s most endangered amphibians, has been introduced using frogs raised at the botanical gardens.

Searching tortoise burrows for the endangered Gopher frog (Rana capito) using a specialised camera (c) Adam Bland

Searching tortoise burrows for the endangered Gopher frog (Rana capito) using a specialised camera (c) Adam Bland

Gopher frogs get their name because they spend the day hiding within the sandy burrows of the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). They emerge very early on in the year to breed in temporary breeding sites. This field study was aiming to record any early activity in the species.

The entire population of Gopher frogs at this site consists of introduced frogs which have only recently been recorded reproducing here.  Although we did not find any gopher frogs or their eggs on this trip, the technique used to search for them is incredibly fun!  We spent time during the day searching Gopher Tortoise burrows using a specialised camera that can reach deep into the burrows, which often resulted in confused tortoises looking back at us through the screen!

Spawn of the leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus)

Spawn of the leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus)

The temporary breeding sites used by the gopher frogs are also used by many other species which breed early on in the year. This is because by the time summer arrives, the temporary ponds here usually dry up.  Breeding early, even when its very cold means they all get a good head start, and in the water on the morning of the survey we found fresh spawn produced by leopard frogs (Lithobates sphenocephalus).


Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata) South Georgia USA (c) Adam Bland

Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata) South Georgia USA (c) Adam Bland

The edges of the pond that we surveyed teemed with tadpoles of at least three species of amphibian, and adult frogs could be heard calling throughout the entire day – and wheres there’s frogs, there’s frog eaters! We were also lucky to find a large banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata) curled up in a patch of sunlight on the forest floor.

This has definitely been one of the most amazing areas to search for amphibians, the diversity has been incredible and I haven’t even touched on the salamanders that we spent the rest of the day searching for!

Atlanta Botanical Gardens                    Salamanders in Atlanta

Model frogs


Fringed Leaf Frog, Manchester Museum

Research being conducting with our collection is helping us understand such things as water loss and temperature regulation in amphibians, and in the case of leaf frogs, heat load transfer due to their ability to reflect infra-red light. Leaf-sitting, sun-loving frogs are highly adapted, reflecting light at a wavelength not so far seen in any other type of creature, or amphibian for that matter. It’s seen only in the very leaves they sit on.

Some species have even evolved incredibly extensive flanges and unusual flaps of skin to extend their surface areas, which, when the frogs are sleeping, acts as a dermal covering to support an increase in body temperature control and also enhance their highly cryptic camouflage when sleeping. These leaf frogs belong to the genus Cruziohyla, which consists of 2 species, The Fringed Leaf Frog, Cruziohyla craspedopus, and the Splendid Leaf Frog, Cruziohyla calcarifer.

01-3&4 Cruziohyla craspedopus (sub-adult, paper) (2)[1] copy

Fringed Leaf Frog 3D model (c) Francisco Herrerias-Azcue

Collaborative research with our Photon Science Institute has allowed us to investigate many aspects of the frog’s biology, and that we maintain these rare frogs in the collection provides some wonderful opportunities for non-invasive studies.

DSC_0710_1At the moment I am co-supervising an excellent student, Francisco, from Mexico, who is making great headway investigating aspects associated with the dorsal surface area of the frogs. He is accurately mapping the area concerned through the development of a revolutionary 3D modelling technique, using a completely new way of evaluating their morphology and physiological parameters.

01-3&4 Cruziohyla craspedopus (sub-adult, paper) (1)[2] copy

Fringed Leaf Frog 3D model (c) Francisco Herrerias-Azcue

This week or so has been particularly interesting, as while filming the frogs in question from all angles on a turntable, to facilitate the 3D modelling, we were surprised how the animals maintained focus on one object in their view…

so much so that even when they’re body was turned they just couldn’t help but keep staring in that same direction – it made for some quite difficult but very amusing filming!


Frogs and Physics         Sun-loving frogs        Photon Science institute


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