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Merry Christmas!


Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

It’s been a fantastic past year, and I am so grateful for all the encouragement and support I have received in so many ways, not just with the blog, but with things in general. I would like to take this opportunity to say many, many, thanks to everyone.   To date, we have actually received 50,000 visits to the blog, which is an absolutely incredible amount. It’s so good to hear that people are really enjoying following it so much. This year’s been great, but the New Year promises to be full of surprises. My colleagues and I are already gearing up for some exciting new developments in the Vivarium, new ways to engage with our visitors, new museum animals, and also new trips, where we aim to post back all about them. For those who enjoyed hearing about my recent visit to Costa Rica, Adam is also flying off to Costa Rica next week and will be posting new video clips back from the Southern Pacific Coast this time. Matt is busy preparing for more European fieldwork starting with Portugal in Feb, and he has been specially invited to teach on a Durrell School course with Lee Durrell and David Bellamy on Corfu in May, which is a wonderful feather in his cap. Apart from keeping you up to date with frog-related posts, I will also be reporting back again from Corfu in the Spring, when I look forward to sharing my exploits with you during a special trip I’m making to find and film those elusive Nose-horned Vipers that evaded me last time. There are loads of other things planned for next year and it really promises to be a super year ahead! One of the Public Events we are working on for the coming year at the Museum is a special Frog Day, and I would like to thank Sam from Froglife ,who is working with us to prepare the day, for the brilliant Christmas card and picture she sent me (above).

It is now my turn to wish everyone a very, very Merry Christmas and an absolutely fantastic New Year ahead! Lots of Love to all, Andrew.

The jokes and the joys of the season,

Its compliments, laughter and glee,

Its meetings, kissings and greetings,

with the love of a friend to thee.

May loved ones flock round thee in plenty,

may your ‘little accounts’ be small,

Be thine the cheer of the season,

and may you spread its warmth to all.

Be thy sources of pleasure many,

thy causes for sorrow few,

may the old year drop merrily over,

In the dawn of a happier New!

George Heath

New description of Costa Rican frog

Ecnomiohyla sukia, new species, Photo (c) Andrew Gray

Many years ago I saw an extremely large and very unusual tree frog in Costa Rica, it was huge compared to most tree frogs I have come across.        It belonged to a group of frogs known as Fringe-limbed Frogs, that have extended skin fringes on their forearms and legs, large toe pads, and really extensive webbing on their hands and feet. These are absolutely spectacular frogs that live high in the tree canopy and use their webs for gliding from tree to tree. With their totally arboreal lifestyle and cryptic colouration, they remain one of the rarest and most elusive creatures of the rainforest – just hearing the call of one of these amazing frogs whilst working in the field is enough to make the heart of even the most experienced Herpetologist beat faster.

The taxonomy of Fringed-limbed frogs has always been unclear, with several different species being confused over the years. However, recently there have been some significant developments, with detailed investigations providing much-needed clarity to the taxa and new species being described. Brian Kubicki in Costa Rica has been investigating a smaller Fringed-limbed frog to the one I saw, and after much detailed research discovered it to be a completely new species. His paper, where he and Jay Savage describe the new frog (pictured) has just been published:

Zootaxa 2719: 21–34  (2010)
Article: A new species of fringe-limb frog, genus Ecnomiohyla (Anura: Hylidae),
from the Atlantic slope of Costa Rica, Central America

Homeward Bound

As we eat our breakfast in the Costa Rican morning sun for the last time, it’s time to think about packing to leave. We have heard that in England there has been snow, and the thought of it perhaps delaying our arrival, and extending our long journey home, is a little daunting.  It has been a great trip though, and extremely rewarding. Rebecca is on track to produce a superb research project, and having Matt join me in the field has been great too. It really has been super to have someone so enthusiastic about the animals with me, and I think it has given him a real taste for the neotropics too. I have been to Costa Rica many times and I love the place. I also fully appreciate how lucky I am to be able to come out here as often as I do.  We have seen many things on this trip and it’s been a great adventure. I really hope you have enjoyed following it. Here are just some of the photos from the trip:

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In Costa Rica there are many species of snakes, and lots that particularly enjoy eating frogs. This means that whenever you are out looking for amphibians you must always be aware where you are putting your hands and feet. There are many things that can be extremely harmful in the rainforest at night, including large spiders, bullet ants, giant wasps, and of course venomous snakes.

The largest and most dangerous snake out here is called the Bushmaster, Lachesis stenophrys, which is the largest viper in the world (pictured above, photographed today). The largest specimen of one of these I have ever come across in the forest was at the CRARC a few years ago when I was out with Brian – it was huge, about 2.5 meters long. As far as I am aware, there are very few people who ever survive a bite from these awesome creatures. The other species of venomous snake that is extremely dangerous is called the Fer-de-lance, Bothrops asper, and it is responsible for the most amount of snake bites, and deaths from a snakebite, in all the Americas. I come across these often while in the forest looking for frogs, but this time I only saw one crossing the road at night.

On another night, while in the forest this time, I did find a beautiful adult Coral Snake, which is another snake to admire at a distance. Some of the other species we have come across on this trip include a few harmless snake species that feed primarily on small tree frogs and their eggs, including the yellow blunt-headed snake, Imantodes inornatus (Pictured, click on to enlarge)

These are amazing to watch, as they move their long, slender bodies gracefully through the branches. They have large eyes, with cat-like pupils. To watch a clip of the one we found please Click Here. The other arboreal snakes we have seen on this trip include the Golden Eyelash Viper that I showed in an earlier post, but today, on the way to San Jose we saw a favourite snake of mine being maintained in Turrialba. It was a  rare relative of the eyelash viper, the Palm Pit Viper, Bothriechis lateralis, a species that occurs only in the highlands. This video I dedicate to Adam, who has being doing a fine job of looking after our collection back in Manchester while I have been away. Many thanks Adam.

Dart frogs of the Pacific

After returning from the Pacific Coast to the CRARC, to drop Brian off at home, it was time for Matt and I to make tracks back to San Jose, which is where we have just arrived. However, before we left, Brian showed me some of the frogs we didn’t manage to see on the Pacific side that he breeds in some of his vivariums.

Two species of Dart frog that only occur on the Pacific side of Costa Rica are the Granulated Dart Frog, Oophaga granulifera and Phyllobates vittatus, and it was superb to see these thriving in his naturalistic vivariums. Brian has two colour forms of the granulifera, one red, and one lime green with a blue underside, beautiful.

Below is a clip showing the red form and how Brian maintains them and the P. vittatus. I hope all the people into dart frogs enjoy watching these. If you would like to view the clip of the green form, which includes how to differentiate the sex in this species, please see Brian’s page. Also in that section you can hear about some of the different carnivorous plants Brian keeps as one of his hobbies. Before I finish mentioning about our visit the CRARC, I would like to thank Brian for sharing his interest with us and for his hospitality.



Pacific road trip

The terrible weather conditions in the Caribbean lowlands have drastically escalated,  so we decided it was time for our road trip to the Pacific Coast – while we could still make it! The 8-9 hour drive from the Caribbean lowlands to Coco, a small but very cool beach town on the North-West Pacific Coast, proved very eventful. We literally only just got through the Braulio National Park before it was closed behind us due to landslides. I have to say that I have never driven through weather conditions like it, talk about white knuckle driving, it was very difficult even keeping the car on the road at some points. However, as soon as we got over the highlands to the Pacific side the weather started to change and we arrived into Coco, tired, but to a most beautiful  sunset – before freshening up and heading out for a well needed beer or three 🙂  Internet connection is difficult,  but I will upload more clips recently taken over this side of Costa Rica on the Live Section as soon as possible.

Glass Frogs of the CRARC

The Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre has 8 of the 13 species of Glass frogs known for Costa Rica. The reason for it being so diverse is its location, the mid-elevation altitude, the amount of rainfall, and abundance of different types of streams.

Brian has been in living in Costa Rica, studying it’s amphibians and especially Glass frogs, for the past 13 years. He is a world expert on Glass frogs and has written a comprehensive book on Costa Rica’s Glass frogs and re-discovered 2 species of Glass frog that hadn’t been seen for over 50 years. One of these, the Green-striped Glass frog, Hyalinobatrachium talamancae, was previously only known from 4 specimens. I have known Brian for as long as we have both been working out here and most people familiar with the blog will know how much respect I have for him and what he has achieved. Brian is just so dedicated, he lives and breathes tropical frogs. He is so passionate about the glass frogs that he even named his daughter Valeri after Hyalinobatrachium valerioi (Pictured).