Harlequin Toad Update

Atelopus 7Regular readers of our blog may remember that earlier in the year we acquired a group of Harlequin toads, Atelopus sp., which have since been housed within our public viewing area opposite our Lemur Leaf Frogs. It has been a while since our post about how the new arrivals were settling in, and we thought we would post a short update about how they have been doing.

After a long period of providing the toads with a simulated dry season, the time has now come to begin the wet season cycle, which may (if we are lucky!) lead to a successful spawning.


HarlequAtelopus 3in toads are some of the most endangered amphibians on the planet, they occur from Costa Rica in Central America and down throughout the Amazon region of South America where they live along the banks of streams, and when the time is right they deposit strings of eggs within the streams flowing water.

During this time, male toads become very territorial and spend a large portion of their day calling to defend their chosen area. In order to accommodate the habits of these small toads, we have constructed a large breeding enclosure in The Vivarium containing a flowing stream, and plenty of space for the males to set up their territories and compete for the attention of our female.

We have selected some of our most dominant male toads which have now been introduced into this breeding enclosure, we can keep track of individuals as they are all uniquely patterned and also vary in colour, as can be seen in the images, which has allowed us to give each toad an ID number and closely monitor the progress of each individual. Shortly, the female will be introduced to the males and time will tell if we achieve a successful spawning!

Atelopus breeding tank

A large stream enclosure for breeding attempts of Atelopus Harlequin toads (c) Adam Bland.

                        Harlequin Heaven                  The Toad That Broke The Mould

Talking English.. with animals

IMG_4654Whereas over the past month I have been brushing up on my Spanish, since arriving back from Costa Rica to work this week and facing a busy teaching schedule, it seems I’m now losing my voice, in whichever language is spoken!

Both Adam and I have had an incredibly busy but highly productive week, and its been a great pleasure for us both to engage with the various groups, from toddlers in our baby explorers and pupils from various schools in our Habitat Explorers, to groups of adults from our local community.

One such session that Adam delivered this week, Talk English, supported a project to help people to learn to speak English.  Up to 200 different languages are spoken in Manchester, which has a population of just under 500,000. Some people cannot not speak English well or even at all, so this project being led by our City Council aims to support them especially.

We got some fabulous feedback on Adam’s superb presentation:  “Your calm, informative explanation helped us to understand the animals better and placate any fears that we had, particularly regarding the snake. We finished the tour in the Vivarium and all but one of the learners remained behind saying they wanted to have more time to look at the animals and stated they would be bringing their children to visit in the summer holidays. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and passion for the animals! “Best wishes, Mazamil.

IMG_4648aWe also got some great feedback from schools visits, including Trinity & St Micheals Primary School from Croston in Lancashire. Their pupils were so inspired that several have featured the visits on their own brilliant blogs!  –  which you can find and follow below.

Adam and I would like to thank all our group visitors this week, and are thrilled to know that the sessions we are providing are being so well received.

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The Toad that broke the mould..

Costa Rican Endemic Toad, Incilius chompipe (c) Andrew R. Gray

Endemic Costa Rican Toad, Incilius chompipe (c) Andrew R. Gray

Once in a blue moon something comes along to change our way of thinking. Currently I am still in Costa Rica – it seems apt, as a research paper about a rare amphibian here has just been published.

We all know that toads from Central America lay their eggs in strings, in water, as is a typical characteristic of the group. Well Adam and I have been working with a very unusual high altitude species of toad that lives in the volcanic mountains of Costa Rica. Researching the breeding biology of this rare species for the first time in the world, we have bred the species in captivity in The Vivarium, and as a result have been able to highlight a remarkable new reproduction mode in Central American toads….

I. chompipe within the egg (c) Andrew R. Gray

I. chompipe within the egg (c) Andrew R. Gray

Incilius chompipe toads don’t follow the rule – their tadpoles and young fully develop in single eggs laid out of water, before hatching as full formed little miniatures of the adults!

This finding represents the first confirmation of direct development within the egg for any toad throughout the whole of Mesoamerica. Its significance within the field of neotropical herpetology is far reaching and we are both very pleased to be able to share it with you..

Gray, A. R, and Bland A. W, Notes on the reproduction of the endemic Costa Rican Toad, Incilius chompipe (Anura; Bufonidae). Mesoamerican Herpetology. June 2016, Volume 3, Number 2. 

Costa Rican Inspiration..

IMG_0100As part of the field course I especially enjoy sharing the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica with the students. Here we have been near Puerto Viejo for several days and experiencing the wonderful wildlife, different culture, and fabulous Caribbean cuisine. Its 16 years since I first shared this fabulous place with some of my family, and it seems it had a big impact on my daughter in particular.

UnknownShe tells me.. “My favourite part of our Costa Rica trip was most definitely adopting Silver the sloth whilst we stayed at the sloth sanctuary. I also loved the donkey ride up the volcano, sitting in the hot pools in the place near the volcano and staying at the place on the Pacific coast with the pool bar! I remember staying in the wooden hut on the mountain where we had an earthquake (and I also tried my first ever Inca Kola!) Costa Rica was also where I did my first driving lesson, with the White Rav 4 on the dirt track! White water rafting was also amazing, when we turned the boat over and laid out a buffet for lunch before making our way to the plunge pool!”


It seems the inspiration of what she experienced is something that has never left her.. the animals, and the full flavour of Costa Rica…

Processed with MOLDIV

Costa Rican Lime-Drizzled Chocolate & Coconut Cream Cake (c) OMG Foodie UK

She is now 26, a fabulous cook, and this is her latest offering for all the family to share… A Costa Rican Lime-Drizzled Chocolate & Coconut Cream Cake! I only wish I was there to taste it and hope she saves me some! This is what she has to say about it:

“I created this recipe based on my childhood memories of visiting Costa Rica, aged 10, drinking my first coconut on the Caribbean beaches whilst searching for Sand Dollars with a Dutch girl I’d befriended! Costa Rica is well known for its rich cocoa beans so this creation really takes me back to those great times.

image5“Not many 10 year olds get to adopt a sloth, trek through the rainforest with a world-famous amphibian conservationist & ride a donkey whilst trekking up a live volcano! I was very lucky! This rich chocolate cake is soaked with lime juice, with a fluffy coconut cream butter frosting & drizzled with dark Costa Rican chocolate!” “I have always loved food from a young age and tied with my creativity, a love of cooking has developed over the past few years, which is great to be able to share with everyone!”

(c) OMG Foodie UK

(c) OMG Foodie UK


“I also enjoy the photography element, having recently invested in my first professional camera, although I’m still a novice. I hope in the coming months to develop my skills and turn my hobbies into a career within social media marketing for a food company or restaurant”

Following a successful 6 months food blogging on Instagram (@OMGFoodieUK) Lexi has also just created a Facebook page to share her passion of cooking and baking. I am so proud of her.

Follow the links below and on there you’ll find out more about how to make this incredible Costa Rican cake plus a host of mouthwatering photos of super delicious cakes, bakes, desserts & more she has created. She also shares her recipes, tips & her favourite food restaurants from not just Costa Rica but around the UK & on her travels – so you too can cook up a storm!

OMG FOODIE UK – FACE BOOK                                 OMG FOODIE UK ON TWITTER


Arrival in Paradise!


Hognosed pit viper (c) Andrew Gray, 2016

Earlier this week we arrived in Costa Rica to conduct the annual 2nd year undergraduate field course for the University of Manchester. It been a wonderful week and we have been based in Turrialba, high in the central mountain range. Here we awake at 6am to a myriad of incredible birds that live in this area. We have spend the daylight hours teaching the students about the array of wildlife and plants found here, surveying techniques, and developing their biological skills.


Strawberry Dartfrog (c) Amanda Bamford, 2016

By night the students visit the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre to investigate creatures of the night with Brian Kubicki and I. The students we have are a great bunch, highly motived and enthusiastic about all we see. For all it feels like we have arrived in Paradise!



BBSRC Excellence with Impact Commendation

IMG_0857The University of Manchester was recently a finalist at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Excellent with Impact awards and was awarded two special commendations for demonstrating outstanding practice in particular areas. The University of Manchester was awarded the two special commendations for our outreach in collaboration with the Manchester Museum and effectively embedding impact across our staff development programmes. The awards looked to “recognise institutions that can develop and successfully deliver a vision for maximising impact, alongside a relevant institution-wide culture change” so we are extremely proud to be commended in such a way.

8CD77072-FB83-4F69-B409641835212167The BBSRC is the largest biology funding body in the UK and they support over 3,500 scientists in the UK. The University has a large number of BBSRC-funded lab groups performing cutting edge research across all its Faculties. Our commendations and presence in the finals recognise the importance our groups place on research that has a real impact and is setting a culture of excellence.

Learning with Lucy Folder Front Cover

The BBSRC judges were particularly impressed with Manchester Museum’s outreach, highlighting the ‘Learning with Lucy’ frog conservation and education programme. Working with the Manchester Museum, the Faculty teamed up with Lucy, a nine year old girl on a mission to save the Lemur Leaf frog. The project was a huge success, reaching international coverage and having an impact in helping to save one of the world’s rarest frogs.

Professor Amanda Bamford says

I am really pleased the judges were impressed with the education and outreach work we do with Manchester Museum. We have a very long standing, successful and unique collaboration with the Museum staff delivering outstanding impact


Rainforest Big Saturday!

photo[10]Last Saturday saw our Rainforest themed Big Saturday event bursting with live animals and hands-on arts and craft activities for all the family, including making frog puppets and rainforest snakes! It provided a wonderful opportunity for our visitors to get up close and personal with our animals and experts!


Not only did we have handling tables full of reptiles and amphibians from the Vivarium but others from collections including those of the North West Reptile Club, who were fantastic. We were also be joined by world experts of other fascinating creatures and plants of the world’s rainforests.

There was rainforest music and talks, including a specialist tour from Lucy Marland – star of our Learning with Lucy programme, who gave a really wonderful tour of our vivarium.

We hope all who attended throughly enjoyed it and we would like to give an extremely big thank you to all who supported the day and made it such a highly successful event!


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