Finding annae, the yellow-eyed leaf frog

Recently I spent 2 weeks travelling through Costa Rica, visiting many places that for a long time I have wished to go to but had not previously had the opportunity. One place included the famous La Selva biological field station and another was visiting our friend Brian Kubicki at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre. These places gave me the opportunity to see many of the species in the wild that we work with closely in the Vivarium and also to see for myself the admiral amphibian conservation work being undertaken by Brian. Visiting the CRARC was wonderful and I got to personally witness the difference that can be made when supporting critically endangered species in the wild, such as the effective habitat modification Brian is conducting for the Lemur Leaf frog using funds raised here in Manchester. Wild male annae

Apart from all the many species observed here there was one species that I was particularly focused on finally seeing in the wild that occurs elsewhere in Costa Rica – a species that I spent all my time in Panama searching for last summer without success. The species is Agalychnis annae, the Yellow-eyed Leaf Frog (pictured right).

This is a beautiful species of leaf frog that we work with in the vivarium that was once considered an endemic species to Costa Rica until a single specimen was found in a remote location in Western Panama in 2010. The species was once relatively common throughout it’s range within the Central Highlands of Costa Rica, once even occurring alongside the Lemur leaf frog, but unfortunately it has disappeared from these areas in recent years and is now restricted to few sites around the capital, San Jose. Many of the areas it still occurs in are heavily polluted, unprotected, and are under threat by urbanisation and development. Due to these threats, and also the that of the deadly chytrid fungus, Agalychnis annae is now considered an endangered species.

Annae amplexusThere are a few places left for this amazing species but I am pleased to report that I was finally successful at seeing Agalychnis annae in the wild. Not only was I successful in finding adult male frogs calling around the breeding site but I was also very fortunate to come across an amplectant pair preparing to spawn.

Nearby ponds were also home to tadpoles of this species. It was an amazing experience to see such a cool frog in the wild and to see breeding adults really made this a special trip for me.

     YELLOW EYED LEAF FROG          CRARC          LA SELVA

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London’s Temporary Rainforest

Sheer cliffs of concrete walls, linear rivers of tarmac roads, among the lights, the cars, the railroads, not a piece of jungle here abodes. As poetic as London maybe to some, a jungle truly does here abode, for 2 days a year at least. No more than half a mile from the grandeur of parliament and West Minister Abbey sits a hall of modest impression.

I entered, ascending the steps into the main hall. My eyes were drawn to a flock of Cypripedium flowers elegantly, yet with imperial stance, co-ordinate themselves like the guards of Buckingham Palace. My camera was in hand, I took a picture (right). Every inch from the floor upwards was festooned in orchids, bromeliads and other delights consolidated together by lush, thick carpets of moss. These exquisite displays were the work of nurseries, and societies from every corner of the globe; Ecuador, Germany, Japan, all contributing to the annual RHS Orchid and Botanical Art Show. Among the jungle displays were benches, corner to corner, pot to pot, of the most outstanding array of orchids, and all were for sale of course!

I had been saving up for at least a year, but not in the most conventional sense. We are all familiar with the empty biscuit tin that you have left over from Christmas where you throw in your odd bits and bobs, 10p here and 50p there. You all know the one I’m talking about. Well my tin began to focus on the big boys, accumulating every £2 pound coin that passed my hands. A year had passed and I was 200 coins heavier.

I set of, rustling my hefty rucksack. My face was grinning like a giddy school kid entering the gates of Willie Wonker`s chocolate factory. On lookers watched, confused by the loud noises emanating from my bag must have thought I was smuggling castanets!

Every coin I had was spent. By the end of the day I was unsure whether the happiness of getting a new selection of orchids outdid the feeling of having a much lighter bag. But what did I get… Well.

I acquired a Lepanthes telipogoniflora, a true miniature. The whole plant is around an inch in diameter and produces a profusion of bright red flowers. Unfortunately this one had finished flowering before I could take some photographs, so this little guy will appear in a later blog when it re-flowers. But the star of the show for me was this Retrepia trichoglossa xanthina. Although not the most showy orchid, it is truly bizarre. This rare colour variation is more vibrant yellow than the typical example of this species. Its flowers are distinctly bugged like and it can be assumed that it is used as a lure for insect pollinators.

This outstanding, yet relatively over looked show is a true highlight to note in the calendar. The dates for the 2015 show are:

Wednesday 8 April – Sunday 12 April 2015 Preview evening Wednesday 8 April

What we see

A recent lunchtime Vivarium tour group comprised just one visitor;  Michael Gilligan from the Manchester Microscopical and Natural History Society [that’s me!].

Although Andrew is an academic, he is also an expert guide, with an obvious passion for the Vivarium.  The exhibit itself is superb, and I was particularly impressed by the RainForest display which now has its front section divided-off for a breeding colony of Strawberry Poison-Dart Fogs. These super little creatures, however, do serve to highlight a problem:  It is very difficult for visitors to see, or photograph, the smaller specimens in detail. Whilst I was browsing the Vivarium, before the tour; several groups of young School-Children passed through … many were attracted by the tiny frogs, but some seemed to lose interest rather quickly, and I think this is because they could not see them in close-up.

To illustrate the problem for the young children; here are two pictures:

Unknown-3 Unknown-5The first is a full frame, taken using a 45mm lens on a micro-four-thirds camera [the original is 4000×3000 pixels, but is here reduced to 800×600 for web viewing]: The second is an 800×600 crop from that image. … The first is a reasonable representation of what we DO see, and the second is what we WANT to see. Andrew and I discussed this briefly, and came to the conclusion that an installed “surveillance camera”, with Pan, Tilt, and Zoom controllable by the visitor, would be an excellent addition to the exhibit. Obviously there are practical difficulties, mostly relating to ruggedness and reliability; but I think it merits serious consideration. …

If any reader of this post has experience of suitable equipment I’m sure that Andrew would like to hear from you!

In closing … an open invitation from “Manchester Microscopical”. Our final meeting of the season is on Thursday evening, 17th April 2014 at 7p.m. in the Stopford Building on Oxford Road, and we would be very pleased to see anyone with an interest in Microscopy and/or Natural History [‘though unfortunately we must insist that anyone under 16 is accompanied by a parent or guardian]. We are hoping to attract new members, and especially some younger members with fresh ideas, so please have a look at the website and feel free to come along:

MANCHESTER MICROSCOPICAL

MichaelG.