Rainforests! – THIS Saturday!

img_79492Why not come along this Saturday the 28th of May to our Rainforest themed Big Saturday Free event! – a full day bursting with live animals, hands-on arts and craft activities for all the family, including making frog puppets and rainforest snakes! It will be a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with our animals (and experts!). Totally Free.

IMG_7909Not only will we have handling tables full of reptiles and amphibians from the Vivarium but others from collections including those of the North West Reptile Club. We will also be joined by world experts of other fascinating creatures and plants of the world’s rainforests.

There will be rainforest music and talks, including a specialist tour from Lucy Marland – star of our Learning with Lucy programme, who will be discussing frogs and climate change!  – Be sure to book onto this tour early at the reception desk to avoid disappointment because its sure to be popular! Come along a join the fun!

Rainforest Big Saturday: 28th MAY, 11am-4pm @ Manchester Museum


This weekend’s frog fun doesn’t end there! Sunday the 29th of May will see an amphibian focused Urban Naturalist event hosted in the Study 2-4pm. We welcome David Orchard a local amphibian expert, and chair of ARGSL to the Manchester Museum. David’s workshop will focus on native amphibian identification, life cycles, habitat requirements and surveying techniques. If you are interested in native amphibians then this is the session for you.

Sign up via -at mcrmuseum.eventbrite.com or phone 0161 275 2648, free, adults



Poison frogs of the Osa peninsula

I returned to the beautiful Central American wildlife paradise which is Costa Rica in April this year. It was always going to be a bit hit and miss in terms of finding amphibians, being the end of the dry season and this turned out to be the case. After several attempts at the beginning of the trip to find an urban population of Agalychnis annae, I became concerned that the extreme drought of recent months would make the trip a disaster. Needless to say no Blue-sided tree frogs could be found, not surprising as all of the vegetation surrounding their breeding ponds was dying off.

DSCN0358Fortunately things would improve as we boarded our small plane to Puerto Jiménez in the Osa Peninsula. We spent 6 days and nights at the beautiful La Tarde finca on the edges of the Corcovado National Park and the moved onto La Bahía de Drake area afterwards. Thanks to Eduardo, the owner of the finca we could find some beautiful amphibians despite the drought. A few brief spells of rain in the late afternoon on 2 days really made all the difference for finding some species. This is one of the few places in Osa where all of the areas poison dart frogs can be found together. The granulated poison frog (Oophaga granulifera) was the first species we encountered, not by day but sleeping by night. On the previously mentioned rainy afternoons we soon found more out calling and hunting by day and then several more sleeping on leaves at night. A species I expected to be common here was in fact the trickiest to find, I’m pleased to say I found them all by myself in the end! The Green and black poison frog (Dendrobates auratus) is a common species in many parts of Costa Rica but not in the Osa peninsula. After many hours of hiking trails by day I eventually found three adult individuals. Their patterns here differ somewhat to those further north. Whilst searching for the green and blacks we came across a nice water fall with a stream below it. Here we found a dense population of Lowland rocket poison frog (Silverstoneia flotator). These are tiny frogs and seem to spend a lot of their time sitting on damp rocks by the stream edge.

In terms of poison frogs, we saved the best until last. After a long hike back to the finca I bumped into Eduardo and I asked him about the Golfo Dulce poison frog (Phyllobates vittatus). He said they were tricky but he told me of a nice “riachuelo” where they can be found in good numbers and that he would take me there! Within minutes we started hiking again, after a nice rain shower into a very dense area of rainforest with no trails. We hacked through vegetation to reach the stream and straight away we heard the calls not only of granulifera but also the much desired vittatus! “Matt, aquí hay una!” We found one straight away soon followed by 6 more adult individuals. These are bigger frogs than I expected and turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip! Thanks Eduardo! Later on at Drake Bay I visited another place where I was lucky to find 2 more of these frogs under leaf litter at night. Despite the drought we found lots of other amphibians which I will share in a later post.

Patience is a virtue

craspedepusmain20 years ago I spent a whole month in the Ecuadorian jungle searching for what was then the rarest leaf frog, Cruziohyla craspedopus, a fringed-legged species with unusual adaptations. It was near Yasuni, deep in Amazonia. One special night my friend and I found a small group of them, males calling around a breeding site, which was inside a fallen tree.

It was so rare in those days, and my friend filmed the species for the very first time in the world. I collected a few eggs with a permit and returned to Manchester. I nurtured them knowing I would never be able to go back and find more. 7 eggs survived and developed to adulthood.

As things would have it all the adults turned out to be male – I was gutted, but kept them very well and it was so special to have them in our collection for many years. They formed the basis of new amphibian research for me, students at Manchester, and others across the globe.


Breeding chamber for Cruziohyla by Adam Bland

Having had success with the related species, the splendid leaf frog, Cruziohyla calcarifer, and being the first to breed the species in captivity, we distributed young out to various other institutions back in 2009, including providing Atlanta Botanical Gardens with the first ones ever in the USA.

As fate would have it, the year before last they were able to provide us with a small number of Fringed Leaf frog tadpoles in return. Again, we really didn’t now what sexes of the animals developed we would end up with and have had our fingers crossed it wouldn’t be a repeat of last time.

However, Today, we found out..

Craspedopus amplexus 2

Cruziohyla craspedopus in amplexus (c) Adam Bland

Adam put great effort into setting the frogs up for breeding last week in a wonderfully furnished ‘rain chamber’, mimicking natural conditions to exact detail. As with other things, we have been waiting patiently to see what would happen, but nothing did. We resided ourselves that perhaps we had no female, it was time to acknowledge that. It wasn’t going to happen on any account. Today was the day to take the frogs out and strip down the tank. But, it seems just when you accept those thoughts some remarkable things can happen.. This morning I woke with a smile, some unexpected things have happened with me, but also I got a wonderful set of messages from Adam.

Craspedopus spawning (c) A Bland

C. craspedopus spawning (c) A Bland

First was that a frog we thought was a male had suddenly become larger, almost overnight. Then another male was in amplexus with it and this morning at 10am the pair laid a clutch of pearl white eggs. It seems the flanges of this unusual species were used throughout the egg laying to help adhere the eggs to the wire they had been laid on.

Many congratulations to Adam, who has achieved what I couldn’t many years ago, and so we can now add the breeding of this amazing species to our department’s breeding achievements. We would both like to thank Mark Mandica in Atlanda for his kindness in providing us with the new opportunity to gain great pleasure in keeping and breeding this species, and I would like to thank Adam for his dedication, patience, and support.

Video: Finding C. craspedopus   

Video: Manchester frogs to USA

Model Frogs         Cruziohyla Metacrosis         Southern Sculptures

Newt Beginnings

N. viridescans

An Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, (c) Adam Bland

Here in the UK the breeding season for our native species of newts is well under way, and members of our team from The Vivarium will be undertaking surveys in the Greater Manchester area over the next two months to see how our local amphibian populations are getting on. Female newts begin laying their eggs around this time of year, and instead of laying strings of eggs like our toads, or large clumps of spawn like frogs, newts carefully wrap individual eggs in vegetation; disguising them from predators. Over two months or so, female newts may lay hundreds of individual eggs. All three of our newt species share this method of reproduction; the lack of competition from other species has perhaps eliminated the need for more elaborate breeding strategies. Although this is not the case in other parts of the world where more species occur together, which causes more competition for the best place and time to reproduce.


A Slimy Salamander, Plethodon glutinosus, (c) Adam Bland

The US and Canada contains one of the most salamander rich ecosystems on earth, with a diverse array of incredible species. In fact, in some areas in the US salamanders account for more of the biomass than any other species of vertebrate in the ecosystem. Due to this diversity of species some have developed unusual ways of breeding to ensure their young have the best chance possible against all of the competition.  Some species such as the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) enter ponds after living terrestrially and breed much like our native species, laying individual eggs in vegetation. Some salamanders, such as the Slimy Salamander, Plethodon glutinosus, have a breeding strategy that eliminates the need for a pond all together, they lay eggs terrestrially which then undergo direct development; females guard their clutch until fully formed salamanders hatch from the egg.


A Marbled Salamander, Ambystoma opacum, (c) Ruby Tingle

The Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum) arrives so early that the pond that their larvae will depend on is not yet there, their ponds dry out over summer and fill up again with the winter rains.  Using ponds such as this is a very clever way of avoiding predation by fish, as their won’t usually be fish in a pond that is not full of water year round. Female Marbled salamanders lay their eggs in depressions that they somehow know will flood to form a pond when the rain arrives; they guard their eggs during their development and as they are submerged by the rains the female abandons them. In reaction to the water the eggs then hatch into swimming larvae within the newly filled pond. This gives them a head start against all other amphibian species that will begin to use the pond later in the year. Amazing!

          Surveying Amphibians in the US     ARGUK     Save The Salamanders 

Disgraceful disaster

As we give our children Easter eggs, there’s something you might be forgiven for not hearing too much about over the past few of weeks. Its not been in the headlines..

90spills.3.360Seems children in parts of the Amazon can’t even drink water or eat fish for over 4 months from the waterway on which their very lives depend. At least two devastating oil spills have occurred in the Peruvian Amazon since 25 January, spilling thousands of barrels of oil into Amazonian rivers. In the latest incident, ruptures in Peru’s main oil pipeline have spilled 3,000 barrels of thick black crude oil into the Amazon jungle river system threatening the environment and lives of local indigenous people.

Peru’s national oil company is responsible and yet again has been unconscionably slow in responding to the disaster and providing clean water, food, and necessary health services to affected indigenous communities.

featured-petroperu-jovenes-700x345No one really knows how much was swept down the River Chiriaco and then into the River Maranon, one of the biggest Amazon tributaries in Peru, but not for the first time in recent years, locals have been struggling to deal with the aftermath, with young people and small children from poor, indigenous communities involved in the clean-up.

One 12-year-old boy reported he was paid 57 cents for every bucket of oil he collected before being injured by the effects. Peruvian health studies have found that 98% of Achuar children have high levels of cadmium in their blood, and two-thirds suffer from lead poisoning.

_88762470_victorpalominoAlthough there’s a state of emergency that means locals cannot use the water or fish in it for four months, and the effects will last much longer, smug faced officials and oil company chiefs are shrugging it all off as an ‘Inevitable accident’, of which there are bound to more of. Its not just Peruvian oil companies, but in Ecuador, just the same has been happening for years.

I have witnessed personally how the oil companies operate in these regions  – No respect for wildlife, people, or life, even in the National parks such as at Yasuni. The oil workers treat spillages as a joke – they even open the taps and empty crude oil from trucks right in front of you and laugh as the drive off with it leaking out. The roads are deliberately paved with thick spilled oil, check points are unmanned, pipelines broken and unmaintained, bent and even flaming pipes are common at the side of the roads. Its unbelievable. Large, shear-sided pits are dug to contain spilled oil in the rainforest, filled with water and oil, without anything for the poor animals that fall in to climb out on, so they all drown. Villager’s who speak out disappear and reporters get death threats. All an utter disgrace and so bad for the poor indigenous people and wildlife.



The Dirty Dozen      A Brazilian Trim          COP21        Groundbreaking Legal Win

Spring Ahead

B.bufo amplexus for blog

Common Toads, Bufo bufo, in amplexus with spawn (c) Adam Bland

Spring has officially begun in the North of England, and like many people I have been itching to get out and see some of our native reptiles and amphibians as they emerge from their long hibernation and begin their breeding season. Species that many people are most familiar with seeing this time of year are our Common Frogs, Common Toads and Palmate & Smooth Newts as they migrate to their breeding sites, usually ponds, and fill them with their spawn. In some areas, all of the above species may be found together, newts especially like to feed upon the spawn of frogs and toads so will often be found within their breeding ponds.

Z.viviparia close up blog

Viviparous Lizard, Zootoca vivipara, (c) Adam Bland

Perhaps less easily observed are our native reptiles, which are much more secretive when it comes to reproduction, and usually quickly disappear once disturbed. Although, on a clear day you may be lucky enough to see Viviparous Lizards this time of year basking in the first warm days of Spring, or perhaps even an Adder. Male Adders tend to emerge before females and may be observed sat basking in the sunlight close by to where they spent the winter hibernating, if disturbed they will quickly retreat back into these sheltered areas. Females emerge around April when males then begin to compete with one another for the opportunity to mate, in late Summer females then give birth to a litter of live young which are a miniature version of the adults and totally independent from birth.

V.berus for blog

A male Adder, Vipera berus, (c) Adam Bland

Adders are a species of viper, and the only species of venomous snake native to the UK. It is believed that they may be suffering population declines over much of their distribution in the UK; historically Adders have been heavily persecuted leading to them now being found within relatively limited ranges in England. These days although many people’s attitudes towards Adders have changed, they remain incredibly sensitive to land development meaning that it is very important that their habitat is conserved for their populations to remain stable. It is great to see this species in the wild, and if you are lucky enough to see one yourself remember that it is highly important to leave them undisturbed. Adders are shy snakes that are best observed from a distance, and they will usually quickly retreat at the slightest disturbance.


Native Reptiles & Amphibians           Common Toads            ARGUK

The Urban Naturalist

Urban Naturalist Moth

I have recently got involved in organising The Urban Naturalist at Manchester Museum.

‘Friendly, practical workshops run by leading naturalists. From wild food-foraging and composting to bird song and insect identification, explore biodiversity on our doorstep’.

Last months edition was hosted in the Collection Study Centre by Dr Michael Dockery, one of our resident entomologists at The Manchester Museum.

We explored survival strategies found within several species of moths, including some species masquerading as bird droppings and those that blend perfectly into their environment.


Dr Michael Dockery © Matthew O’Donnell

Michael had also brought some fascinating examples of moths and butterflies from the museum’s collection to give us a close up view, including the largest species of butterfly in the world – Queen Alexandra’s birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae). This certainly trumped the largest British species the Swallowtail (Papilio machao) for size, but perhaps not in beauty!

We also had the opportunity to try our hand at working out the distribution of wingspan variance within a population of moths!

I think I can speak for the rest of the participants in wholeheartedly thanking Michael for his fun and informative session; I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and certainly learnt a lot.

The 27th of March Urban Naturalist will be presented by David Winnard (discoverthewild.co.uk)one of the most respected foragers and naturalists in the North of England. In this workshop he will explore the edible, medicinal and poisonous plants and fungi found in the Greater Manchester area.  We will learn how to locate and identify them from one and other safely. How to forage sustainably, what laws we need to be aware of and a whole lot more!

The 24th of April workshop will take a look at the relationship between people and nature in cities, and explore ideas around community engagement. Join Dr Luke Blazejewski (Vimeo), a local wildlife photographer and conservationist, who will be sharing some of his experiences as an urban naturalist, and encouraging people to develop new ways of helping communities engage with the wildlife on their doorstep.

For those interested in getting involved in future Urban Naturalist sessions;

Keep up to date with the events page on the Museum Website

Sign up via the Museum Eventbrite page

The Urban Naturalist is part of Museum Meets, The Manchester Museum’s year round programme for adults.



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