Treasure Tibet

Nanorana pleskei; Tibetan Frog

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

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

Hibernation in Snowy Sweden

290Hi, Matt here! I’ve just returned from a skill exchanging trip to snowy Sweden, visiting our colleagues and collaborators at Nordens Ark. One of the really interesting aspects of working with native reptiles and amphibians in Sweden at this time of year is the hibernation process..

During the long dark winter, the temperatures plummet to levels which are too cold for reptiles and amphibians to maintain their normal behaviour. Nordens Ark use this time to perform annual health checks and head counts before placing their animals into a specially designed hibernation facility, where they can be closely looked after during this period of dormancy.

As well as the reptiles and amphibians, some of the rare insects they are working with, both larvae and emerged adults, also go through the controlled hibernation. One such intriguing species is the Capricorn beetle, Cerambyx cerdo, which is critically endangered in Sweden due to its specific breeding biology – it requires ancient oak trees with sufficient amounts of dead wood to lay its eggs in and for the beetle grubs to feed upon. The larvae normally take 5 years to grow big enough to moult and become an adult, which once emerged will then live for only 1-2 months. This means that only pristine ancient woodlands can support this species, an environment which is increasingly rarer in modern Sweden.

Capricorn beetle, Cerambyx cerdo (c) Matthew O’Donnell

Current populations are limited to eight trees with only 20 specimens emerging every year, so for the past 3 years Nordens Ark have been working with beetles collected in Poland (which has a bigger population) to perfect the captive breeding and rearing of these stunning beetles so that the experience can be transferred to keeping Swedish beetles. Through their hard work and determination with the beetles, they have been able to produce a method to breed and rear the beetles to mature adults in only just two years, which will highly increase timescales and numbers for release to the wild from captive breeding.



Capricorn beetle larvae (c) Matthew O’Donnell

Due to the great success in rapidly raising polish larval specimens it means that this year they will hopefully be able to start working with the critically endangered Swedish beetles and producing enough young to release to new regions soon and create new populations to ensure this incredible beetle also has a strong future in Sweden.

Below Jimmy Helgessen tells me about the project, and I would like to sincerely thank him and all at Nordens Ark who made my trip so enjoyable.

Hear and see more about my visit to snowy Sweden by going to my own page and following the link under my video below.


Matt’s Page            Nordens Ark         Capricorn Beetle Conservation Project

Lucy’s post – why I want to be a zoologist when I grow up

Hi my name is Lucy. I am 9 years old and I love frogs! I started to love frogs after my visit to Manchester Museum in the amphibian section last summer. This is how it all started… Andrew gave us a guided tour of amphibians and reptiles. It was amazing, because I got to hold lots of different frogs and reptiles. The first one I held was an American toad, then I fed the toad a live cricket. The next frog I held was the prettiest thing I have ever seen! At first the Red Eyed Leaf Frog was asleep in a pretty weird shape.

Lucy making friends with her favourite frog

Me making friends with my favourite frog

When it hopped timidly onto my hand, I realized that frogs are not what I expected. I started to grow in confidence, when suddenly it jumped up my arm. I knew we were becoming friends. The next thing I knew I was holding a baby Python, although it didn’t bite! At first I was scared, but I learnt it wouldn’t bite me.


Andrew asked me if I wanted to feed a chameleon. I really was daring to do it, so I decided to have a go. He gave me a live locust and we went over to the vivarium and the chameleon ate it all up. Since then I have loved the facts and history of frogs and now I want to be a zoologist too and help to save frogs and other endangered animals like Andrew and his friends at Manchester University!




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