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Breakfast with Butterflies

IMG_9229I’ve just arrived back at the Turrialtico in the highlands of Costa Rica, and joining me on this trip is my very good friend and colleague Claes Andren. I’m here to progress the development of a couple of projects, one is the collaborative Lemur Frog Conservation Project, with whom Claes and Norden’s Ark are instrumental partners, and the second is a sustainability-focused education initiative I’m hoping to develop between the Museum and a Costa Rican primary school.


Astraptes spp (c) Andrew Gray

Later we travel to the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre, but just now we are getting over our jet-lag and preparing for the rest of the trip, which promises to be very rewarding. Photographing the beautiful butterflies here is a pleasurable distraction, but we’ll be sure to keep you updated and hope you’ll enjoy sharing this trip with us.


Claes – Project Lemur Frog    Nordens Ark    Turrilatico Mountain Lodge

Nancy Rothwell Award

Tree_Frog_Daniel_Callaghan_Low_Res copyA colourful red-eyed tree frog, Agalychnis callidryas, is the winning image of the inaugural Nancy Rothwell specimen drawing competition, as announced at the Royal Veterinary College, London, as part of Biology Week.

Daniel Callaghan (16) of St Leonards Catholic School in Durham, won in the highest category (15-18 years old) with his stunning drawing of the frog, along with three intricately labelled diagrams of the animal’s skeleton, organ and muscular systems.

The Society of Biology launched the Nancy Rothwell Award this year to celebrate specimen drawing in schools and highlight the benefits of links between art and science.

Tree_Frog_Daniel_Callaghan_Low_ResProfessor Dame Nancy Rothwell, vice chancellor at The University of Manchester and past president of the Society of Biology, said: “I have always loved art as well as science. I wasn’t a judge but personal favourite is the frog because it combines the animal’s beauty with the very detailed inner anatomy.”


This competition was organised as part of Draw and Develop, a joint initiative administered by the Society of Biology and the Royal Veterinary College. The awards were presented at the Vet College with almost 700 attendees.

Nancy Rothwell Award       

Turtle beach

Boca Grande, Gasparilla Island, Florida (c) Tara Gray

Boca Grande, Gasparilla Island, Florida (c) Tara Gray

South-west Florida has some of the best beaches in the world, and 5 of the 7 species of sea turtle also enjoy swimming their warm waters. These species range from the smallest sea turtle, the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, to the largest of them all, the Leatherback Sea Turtle, which grows up to an enormous 9ft long. The endangered Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas, which is mostly herbivorous, also swims elegantly through the water here, using its large paddle-like flippers to propel itself.

Awaiting the Florida sunset (c) Andrew Gray

Awaiting the Florida sunset (c) Andrew Gray

Green sea turtles migrate long distances between feeding grounds and the beaches where they lay their eggs. Once the sun has set, female sea turtles will pull themselves out of the water onto the beach and then  go on to dig a nest and lay eggs in it overnight. After incubation, those baby turtles that hatch and go on to reach maturity may live to eighty years in the wild. However, its so sad to think that although it is illegal to collect or kill these wonderful creatures, in some countries both they and their eggs are still being illegally harvested.

Green Sea Turtle, Florida (c) Andrew Gray, 2014

Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas (c) Andrew Gray, 2014

Green turtles have a very wide distribution and the same species is found on the caribbean coastline of  Costa Rica. For most green turtles in the Caribbean the mating season is from June to September, but here in Florida its slightly later and will continue until the end of this month.

To find out more about sea turtles and their conservation please follow this link:


Across the pond

photo[6]At the moment I’m in Florida, after flying across the pond only a few days ago. However, before leaving for the US, we had a special visitor travel across the pond the other way, coming from Atlanta to Manchester especially to visit the vivarium and see our frog collection. As such, I would like to give a big shout out to Tess Yaney, Atlanta Botanical Garden’s dedicated intern.

Tess works with the amphibians at ABG and is now the egg, larvae and reproductive care specialist there. It was a great pleasure for Adam and I to meet her earlier this week and we wish her all the very best for the future!

ABG – Displays         ABG – Conservation         ABG – Frogpod

What we see..


30.000ft (c) Andrew Gray, 2014

What would they have given 100 years ago to see what we see today…

We look out the window and what we see we take for granted, well many of us do.

We are the direct descendants of those people, we carry their genes, we carry their experiences, passed on through generations, we have evolved..

But we are still the same. We share the same fears, aspirations and hopes for the future. We are part of the history of the future.

What we see when we look out the window is truly wonderful, if we too take the time to appreciate what we see, whether that be a strand of heather covered in frost, the sun reflecting off the colorful breast of a songbird, or the blue sky as it meets the horizon.


 Where Eagles dare

Chelonia at Chester

This Saturday, 18th October, sees The British Chelonia Group’s Northern Symposium, which is being kindly hosted by Chester Zoo. Non-members are also welcome to attend this symposium, that runs from 9am – 4pm.

Εικόνα 038Speakers on the day are to include Siuna A Reid, a top Veterinary Surgeon from Lytham St. Annes in Lancashire with a good deal of Chelonia Treatment experience and several books on the subject to her name. She will speak on ‘Unravelling The Secret Of Hibernation’. Also speaking will be Julian Sims, Jen Jones – the Projects Manager of the Galapagos Conservaton Trust, Mike Wilkes  – a photographer and guide with 12 years experience in the Galapagos, and Andy Browne who will talk about his rescue centre’s work with Chelonia.

Cost to attend the Northern Symposium is just £30 including lunch, tea/coffee and Zoo admission.The BCG have also been fortunate enough to have been given a limited edition Giant Tortoise print by the renowned wildlife artist, Robert Fuller, for auction at the Symposium in support of further fund raising. Although I am away myself in Florida this weekend and so unable to attend to this event, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Chelonia and in helping support of this superb group.

The British Chelonia Group           Chester Zoo        Florida Sea Turtle Conservancy

A new recruit


Me with a Giant Monkey Frog

Hi, my name is Matthew O’Donnell and this will be my first blog post since joining the Vivarium as a part time Curatorial Assistant in August. I’m very proud to be able to post on the Frog Blog, a blog I’ve followed for a number of years and I hope you will enjoy finding out more about me and what I’ve been up to through my future posts.

My first two months have been everything and more than I could have wished for. It is a great honour for me to be able to work with such talented and experience individuals, not to mention the unique and wonderful collection of reptiles and amphibians that the vivarium maintains.

It has been an action packed first few weeks and I would like to extend my thanks to Andrew, Adam, Tom and all the staff at Manchester Museum for being so welcoming and for helping me settle in so quickly. I hope to repay their faith in me by bringing in my own ideas and expertise to help keep the well-established high standards of the Vivarium in place for the years to come.


Preparing a varied diet for the Fiji Iguana

For those of you that are interested I thought I would give you a little information about me and my background. I am a graduate of Zoology from the University of Salford with 15 years’ experience working with reptiles and amphibians first as a hobbyist and more recently in a professional capacity:

I starting working at Viper and Vine an exotic pet retailer in Manchester and then moving to Chester Zoo where I worked in both voluntary and paid roles within the Herpetology and Invertebrate departments. Having grown up in Manchester some of my first encounters with exotic species of reptiles and amphibians were at the Vivarium in Manchester Museum, I was lucky to have such a fantastic resource on my doorstep and I know first-hand the influence such an establishment can have on the development and nurturing of a love of the natural world. It was this love of the natural world and specifically reptiles and amphibians that resulted in me choosing a career path that would allow me to work closely with these groups of animals.

Male Fijian Iguana at Manchester Museum

Male Fijian Iguana at Manchester Museum

Something I have been working on in these first few weeks is behavioural enrichment, which is a really exciting area to explore with animals. It basically looks at ways to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of animals in captivity through the use of stimuli.


Enriching the lives of the animals in our care is something that I and the rest of the team here in the Vivarium are very passionate about. One of the most exciting aspects of enrichment is that you can never do too much, and part of the fun is thinking up new novel ways to enhance the lives of the animals under your care – you can look at a variety of areas but the ones I have been focusing on lately are sensory enrichment, feeding enrichment and environmental enrichment. This short video is an example of some of the feeding enrichment I’ve been carrying out with the Fijian Iguana we have here in the Vivarium.