An Update from Jamaica

Hi, my name is Chris Ward! I’m an undergraduate at the University of Manchester and I’m currently volunteering in the Jamaican rainforest at the Windsor Research Centre for my ‘year in industry’ (just down the road from the house where Usain Bolt grew up). We had no TV at home when I was young, so I spent most of my time outdoors. I used to build dens, climb trees, and catch frogs – a passion which has stuck with me ever since.

Myself with a  Jamaican yellow boa (Epicrates subflavus).

Myself with a snoring frog (osteopilus crucialis)

Jamaica’s flora and fauna are extremely diverse, with many different endemic species including over 500 ferns, over 500 snails, 28 bird species, 9 species of snake and 21 species of frogs. Unfortunately since being documented, there’s been very little research on the ecology of these species and it is quite possible that several of these species could go extinct before we know anything about them.

Snoring frog (Osteopilus crucialis) in hand

Snoring frog (Osteopilus crucialis) in hand

I’m running several projects to make a start on fixing that and I’m particularly interested in the Jamaican Laughing Frog (Osteopilus brunneus) and the Jamaican Yellow-Bellied Frog (Eleutherodactylus pantone). I recently wrote an article in FrogLog, the IUCN Amphian Survival Alliance’s newsletter about the ongoing projects developed by the Windsor Research Centre – you can read the article here http://www.amphibians.org/froglog/fl109 and find out more about the centre from their website here http://www.cockpitcountry.com/.

The rainforest here is under serious threat mainly from mining alumina and bauxite, Jamaica’s top export (both sources of aluminium). Although some areas here are listed as important for biodiversity, most receive little to no protection from the Government. Even in protected areas, that protection isn’t enforced. Whilst I learn the ropes in my first field season, I will be working closely with birds, snakes, butterflies and of course, frogs. My task is to document as much as I can about these important animals in the time they have left and I look forward to sharing some of my experiences with you.

Till next time!

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Tillandsia sprengeliana: small plant, big flower

Tillandsia sprengeliana growing on a branch with finger tips for scale. (c) T. Hughes

This is by far one of my all time favourite plants. It is fully mature at only 8cm tall and produces vibrant pink flowers 3.5cm long – that’s almost half the size of the plant!

Tillandsia sprengeliana is an unusual miniature epiphyte that is somewhat reminiscent of an artichoke. It grows amongst Brazilian coastal forests and occurs between two regions; Punta Negra and Macae and is most abundant on the island of Cabo Frio in the state of Rio De Janeiro.

I currently have 4 examples of this species and I am proud to show my first successful inflorescence – a cluster of flowers arranged along a stem. The genus Tillandsia is typically pollinated by butterflies and then seeds are distributed by birds.

 

It is also interesting to note that historical records have shown that this species was primarily a resident of coastal vegetation, but recent studies have shown it can also live, and thrive, in montane savannah, which demonstrates a great adaptive capability. Hopefully this aspect also suggests an increasing distribution as this species is rare.

Although CITES appendix II listed, thankfully it is not affected by international trade as the species is now maintained sustainably in captivity, and has been successfully grown by seed.

If your interested in reading more about plants take a look at Herbology Manchester

Treats of Turrialba

Picture Perfect!

Lucy Bridges

Splendid Leaf Frog, Cruziohyla calcarifer at Manchester Museum (C) Lucy Bridges

Last weekend we had our third  photographic workshop with Chris Mattison, which appeared to go down very well. All 12 participants got the opportunity to photograph a wide selection of our frogs and went home with some really superb pictures – and new tips on how to perfect their their camera skills! It was a super day and I would sincerely like to thank Chris Mattison and his wife Gretchen for making it all possible. I would also like to thank Adam and Tom for their support on the reptile side and all the participants for their consideration for each other and in respect of the animal’s wellbeing, which always comes first.

Below are a few images taken by some of our participants:

 

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A New Year Nest

Phyllomedusa tomopterna, or the Tiger-legged Monkey Frog, is a small species of Phyllomedusa which occurs over a large area of northern South America; from Ecuador to Brazil and as far South as Bolivia.  This is a lowland species that lives in warm and humid tropical rainforests. Populations that occur in unprotected areas are directly threatened by deforestation.

P.tomopterna male on branch

Male P. tompterna (c) Adam Bland

At a glance, some herpetologists may think that this frog belongs more to the leaf frog genus Agalychnis, as unlike many other species of monkey frog, which tend to perch on branches when resting,  this species lies flat against a surface of leaves hiding its bright flank colouration in a similar fashion to leaf frogs.

However, although in the same sub-family as Leaf frogs, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that this is typically a Monkey frog: the hands and feet lack any webbing, they rarely jump unless startled, and  as with all monkey frogs they use these grasping hands to methodically walk and climb branches. Most importantly, when it comes to reproduction, unlike leaf frogs which simply lay their eggs on a leaf, these wrap the leaf around the eggs laid and produce a type of ‘nest.’

P.tomopterna nest

P.tomopterna egg nest (c) Adam Bland

Producing a leaf nest has many benefits; the eggs within are protected from predators such as fish as the eggs are out of water, and also as the nest is folded and sealed shut they are protected from the many insects which may cause a threat to them.  They are also protected from drying out in the sun, as the folded leaf keeps them from being exposed to direct sunlight.  The adult frogs are smart enough to produce water-filled capsules that they lay between fertile eggs, which rupture and hydrate the developing tadpoles should they become too dry.  When they are ready to hatch the tadpoles drop from the nest into water below, as the adults never spawn unless the leaves are directly above a pool of water.

Over the New Year, we have been lucky to have our own group of tiger-legged monkey frogs reproduce in one of our rain chambers, producing a small nest of eggs.

These eggs have now developed into tadpoles and will hatch in the next day or so. They can be seen on public display in our back of house viewing area within the new Vivarium.

Costa Rican Frogs: What a beauty!

Wagner and Cruziohyla calcarifer copy

Me with a beautiful Splendid Leaf Frog, Cruziohyla calcarifer, during Manchester University Field course.

Hello! My name is Wagner and I’m a Costa Rican researcher. I am particularly interested in animal behaviour studies, and for the last four years I have been developing and participating in bio-acoustical and conservation projects with Costa Rican herpetofauna. If you haven’t heard or read much about my country, then I`d just say that it can easily be considered a paradise for herpetologists.

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Paternal care of glass frog eggs (c) W.Chaves

One of my projects seeks to describe a paternal care behavior in a glass frog species (pictured), as well as to determine the implications of the male`s presence in the hatching rate of the embryos (I`ll tell you more about this project in further posts). Last year I was invited to participate on the tropical field course in Costa Rica with the University of Manchester. I worked with all the students, Andrew and the other professors, who always made me feel very welcome.

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Agalychnis callidryas breeding at a temporary pond, La Selva, Costa Rica (c) Wagner Chaves.

The incredible experience the field course provided has definitely enhanced my commitment towards studying amphibians and reptiles. During the course I conducted a brief three-day survey to determine if the presence of other anuran species affected the calling activity of the Red-eyed tree frog, Agalychnis callidryas (pictured). It also allowed me to analyse changes in the acoustic activity of the species regarding its temporal and spatial distribution.

Our shared goal of preserving healthy species` populations in Costa Rica requires efforts by all amphibian conservationists to increase our knowledge of species` natural history as well as to develop effective non-invasive conservation strategies. I believe that by conducting detailed research studies, more accurate decisions can be then be taken for the protection of different species and their ecosystems in Costa Rica. In the future I hope to share more with you on frogblog about my personal research projects and my experiences in the forests of the Costa Rican Atlantic slope.

Escuela de Biologia, UCR          CR Field Course, FLS           Veragua rainforest

New research project

Hello everyone!  My name is Chris and I’ve recently started a research project in collaboration with Andrew and the vivarium.  I come from a physics background and am based in the Photon Science Institute at the University of Manchester.

IMG_0375One of the great things I’ve noticed about the frogs and the vivarium is the sheer scope of its appeal.  Whenever I walk in, all sorts of people, of all sorts of ages, seem to find the frogs fascinating.  What is incredible is that this fascination extends into research, and even as a physicist, there is plenty about these frogs that is scientifically new and interesting.

My research will revolve primarily around the unique optical properties that many of these frogs exhibit, and how these properties can teach us more about the frogs.  For instance, one of the things I’ll be trying to delve deeper into is how some of these frogs are able to bask in direct sunlight for long periods of time.

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Click image to enlarge and see a comparison of frogs with and without the rare pigment in their skin when viewed in the infra red spectrum.

This is a behaviour that would normally cause frogs to overheat, but their ability to bask for long periods has been attributed to the frogs possessing the rare pigment pterorhodin, something mentioned on here a little while back. My research will thoroughly investigate this, and hopefully come up with some definitive answers about the effects and properties of the pigment.

My latest work has been developing methods to allow computers to identify different species of frog, just from the way their skin reflects light.  This is research that in the future may be used to quickly and safely identify species and may even help understand how certain properties of the frogs have evolved and how certain species are related.

I’ll keep you updated as the research progresses, so keep an eye open and I hope to talk to you all again soon!

Thomas Hughes “Cocktail Naturalist”

Hi there, I’m Thomas Hughes, college student by day and fully engrossed natural history buff the rest of the time. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Andrew and Adam in the vivarium for the past three and a bit years to help make sure the vivarium is squeaky clean and all the animals are maintained with the best possible care.

If I could give myself a title it would most probably be, “The Cocktail Naturalist”. This isn’t because I have a great taste for unusual and exotic beverages, but more to the fact my interests are widespread, a concoction if you will. As a child, dinosaurs took centre stage; this was probably due to the fact that most of my childhood television was comprised of animated talking dinosaurs. At around the age of 8, and several dozen zoo trips later, I began to realize a likeness between dinosaurs and crocodiles.

After building a modest collection of books, mostly titled “reptiles and amphibians”, I had inadvertently delved into a world of cold blooded wonder. To this, my passion for reptiles and amphibians flourished. 

6210_113172479951_7513210_nJust turning 13, I began keeping a few poison dart frogs (Dendrobatidae), which must be maintained in naturalistic surroundings. I had then, as you most likely guessed, been introduced to the wonderful world of tropical plants. I was particularly drawn to the ones with big beautiful flowers, of the family Orchidaceae. As my reptile and amphibian collection grew, so did my Orchid collection, which had directed itself towards a group called the “Pleurothallid Alliance”.

Forest City Meteorite 10.2g (c) T. Hughes

Aged 14, I began studying Astronomy GCSE to which I found myself compelled to learn more. For the remainder of my high school years I held teaching sessions for other students taking the course. A particular subject jumped out to me, something strange, it was the study of some type of rocks. To which the title “Meteorites” was associated.

Again, I found myself hitting the google button wanting to know more. The most compelling thing for me was the theory that meteorites may have seeded the building blocks for life on earth. To this, I began to collect meteoritic samples, as a side hobby.

Well, that is my story so far. I hope in the future to enthral you with many voyages of discovery I may find myself on, any tropical plant updates, and most importantly reptile and frog stories.

I`ll be happy to answer any questions you may have, and a Happy New Year to all!