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Loving La Selva


Looking good in wellies! This years staff and students © Alex Villegas

Over the last week, the University of Manchester field course has been based out of La Selva Biological Station, Heredia province. This world-renowned site for biological study has hosted researchers and students for over 50 years. It is a great experience for our students to be able to sample the atmosphere of one of the most productive field sites in the tropics, sharing tables with top researchers from around the world, and even watching some of the unfolding world cup with them!



Misfit leaf frog (Agalychnis saltator) © Matthew O’Donnell

Our week at Macaw lodge equipped everyone with the necessary skills to carry out their individual research project. I had my hands full with 8 students to supervise, but I can happily say they were great. It was very exciting to see the presentations and see just how well they all did. Projects ranged from poison frog abundance and environmental parameters, to measuring and comparing tree frogs from different habitats.

The diversity of amphibians and reptiles at La Selva is staggering, whilst we didn’t quite have as much rain as expected, we were still able to find a large range of species in abundance, enabling everyones work to run smoothly.


Me and Alex after a hard weeks work! © Alex Villegas

This week was also a great opportunity to work closely with my colleagues on the field course, Professor Amanda Bamford (Course leader), Alex Villegas (Swarovski Optik), Dmitri Logunov (Curator of Arthropods), and Frankie Elsner-Gearing (Demonstrator). From beta testing new University of Manchester software, to assisting with documenting orchid bees! I would like to extend my thanks to each of them, as their help and assistance was of great value to me during my 2 weeks on the field course. I would also like to thank, Andrew Gray, who’s trust and advice was invaluable for my participation, it was a great honour to represent Manchester Museum and the University, one I hope to repeat in the future.

A special mention must also go to the students, who were without exception a pleasure to work with. They were hardworking, professional and conducted themselves excellently across the whole two weeks. I would like to wish them every success for the future.

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Fabulous finds on the Pacific Coast


Professor Amanda Bamford’s lecture on Costa Rican life zones © Matthew O’Donnell

During our time on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica we have been introducing the students to the practicalities of tropical field work. This has involved several lectures from the expert teaching staff as well as practical work in the forests around our field centre, from the diverse sampling techniques for invertebrates lead by Manchester Museum Curator of Arthropods Dmitri Logunov, to plant identification and plant dissection with Professor Amanda Bamford.

Alongside my lecture I have also been leading nightly herpetological walks, introducing the students to the exciting, exhausting and enthralling world of reptile and amphibian study.


Sustainability tour at Macaw lodge featuring stingless meliponini bees! © Matthew O’Donnell

This experience will be vital to prepare the students for La Selva Biological Station. Where they will be conducting their independent research projects. We have been fortunate to encounter many species of reptile and amphibians during the last week, and hopefully La Selva will prove to be just a fruitful! Below is a small sample of the species we have encountered.

We have also had the opportunity to visit some of the nearby reserves, including the world renowned Manuel Antonio National Park, where we were treated to some up-close mammal encounters!


Manuel Antonio National Park © Matthew O’Donnell

We were also treated to a talk from Pablo Gordienko, the founder of Macaw lodge, who explained his vision for sustainability and self sufficiency which underpins the unique work of Macaw lodge, from running 100% off solar power, to growing large proportions of the menu in their own gardens. I would like to extend both my own and my colleagues sincere thanks to all the staff at Macaw lodge who made our visit very special!

Costa del Crocs                                                       Costa Rica field course

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Costa del Crocs


Rainforest bound © Matthew O’Donnell

It’s that time of year again, where University of Manchester students have the opportunity to visit Costa Rica, to experience the full diversity of life that the tropics has to offer. This annual field course, gives students an introduction to a huge range of scientific practices, from field research to scientific drawing and many more.

This year I have the opportunity to assist with the field course and help educate the students on the wonderful range of amphibian and reptile diversity of Costa Rica.


Our pacific base for the next week – Macaw Lodge © Matthew O’Donnell

In a change to the regular format this year’s cohort have the chance to visit both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the country. Split down the middle by formidable mountains, the two coast of Costa Rica are very distinct. The plants and animals found on one side can be completely different from those on the other! Some might look similar but have some subtle distinctions that separate them.

This all adds to the excitement for both staff and students alike, being able to understand the changes in plants and animals between ecoregions is a key skill for any budding biologist. We are currently compiling information from the pacific and will use it to compare with our findings on the Atlantic coast next week.


Students hunting for wildlife on the Tárcoles river © Prof. Amanda Bamford 

First stop on our pacific adventure was to visit Rio Grande Tárcoles (Tárcoles river), where we boarded the “Jungle Crocodile Safari” tour to spot some of the rivers most infamous residents. It wasn’t long before we spotted our first American crocodile (Crocodylus actus). These formidable animals have declined across much of their range, due to habitat loss and overexploitation resulting in their classification as vulnerable to extinction, however, this region of Costa Rica represents a stronghold.

A few large males have attained huge sizes of five meters plus, meaning they are at least 60 years old. Some impressive animals have even been affectionately named, such as one known as Lady Gaga!


Over five meter American Crocodile (Crocodylus actus) © Matthew O’Donnell

We were also treated to a delightful variety of bird species, including a fabulous flyby from the scarlet macaw (Ara macao). What a start to my first day on the job! 

Costa Rican Field Course

Message in a bottle

Lucy has been very busy lately with various school projects related to conservation. I have been told that her her Textiles project this year involved designing a smartphone case with an animal design on it, to support WWF.  – and that, surprise, surprise, hers had a beautiful tree frog on it. Lucy is still very much interested in her Science and for her latest project she has entered a school competition with an entry called “Message in a Bottle” inspired by plastic waste. Keep up the amazing work Lucy – you are a star!

To read more and keep up to date with Lucy’s wonderful efforts to help save the planet you can follow Lucy’s Zoology Blog


Metamorphosing Monkeys


First day out of the water (Phyllomedusa trinitatis) © Matthew O’Donnell

Over the past few months we have been rearing a group of Trinidadian monkey frog tadpoles (Phyllomedusa trinitatis), some of which have now begun to climb out of their aquarium and begin their next chapter as land dwelling frogs. This transformation is known as metamorphosis and represents a huge change for these bold little explorers, leaving their watery home behind for the harsh environment of dry land.


This froglet (Phyllomedusa trinitatis) has started to absorb its tail © Matthew O’Donnell

These island dwelling tree frogs produce large clumps of frog spawn which they wrap up in leaves. These nests hang above ponds and protect the developing eggs from the drying effect of the sun, and any would be predators. Once the eggs have developed into tadpoles they drop into the pond below where they spend the next few months, feeding on varied diet of algae and invertebrates.


After absorbing its tail this froglet has turned bright green © Matthew O’Donnell

As they grow the tadpoles slowly begin to develop their characteristic tree frog legs, once all four limbs are strong enough the tadpoles will haul themselves out of the water into the vegetation surrounding their pond and find a nice spot to hide away whilst they complete their metamorphosis.


Whilst looking after our latest arrivals I took some quick pictures of this amazing transformation. We still have a good number of these tadpoles in our window display in the Vivarium, so there is still time to see them change before your very eyes!

Trinidadian Monkey Frog                                                            Leaf-Folding Frogs


Tadpole display in the Vivarium © Matthew O’Donnell

Water wizard

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