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Staycation in the Northwest

Dune habitat at Formby © Matthew O'Donnell

Dune habitat at Formby © Matthew O’Donnell

I have recently returned from a week enjoying the delights on offer along the North West coastline, which although right on my doorstep, still provides plenty of surprises. As you can imagine no holiday is complete for any member of the Vivarium staff (myself included) without an attempt to find some local flora and fauna of interest.

This led me to visit Formby Point, which through its variety of different habitats provides a haven for a diverse plethora of rare plants and animals. This includes the potential to spot some elusive Sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) and Natterjack toads (Epidalea calamita), two species that I have only seen a handful of times.

Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita)            © Matthew O'Donnell

Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita) © Matthew O’Donnell

Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)       © Matthew O'Donnell

Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)   © Matthew O’Donnell

Unfortunately conditions on the dunes were very windy causing the majority of animals to seek shelter, myself included. So even though the habitat and other conditions seemed to be perfect, no lizards or toads were found.

However all was not lost as within the more sheltered pine forests there was much more to discover, including several sightings of red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) and a rather bold hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) which you can see in the clip below.


I also had the opportunity to visit Bodnant Garden, a property run by the National Trust and located in the borough of Conwy. This beautifully preserved garden is home to many national collections of plants, but it was the collection of champion trees which attracted my attention.

The Dell at Bodnant Garden © Matthew O'Donnell

The Dell at Bodnant Garden © Matthew O’Donnell

California Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) © Matthew O'Donnell

California Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) © Matthew O’Donnell



The Dell area of the garden is home to a number of champion trees including a number of giant redwoods from North America, including the impressive California Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) this particular specimen is the largest in the UK and is an incredible 49 meters tall. Planted in 1886 this tree is still a baby compared to the giants found in California which can attain heights over 115 meters and live for over 1,800 years! The tallest tree in the world is a California Redwood named Hyperion which is 115.6 meters (379.3ft) tall and between 700-800 years old.

Reflective Tree Frogs

Adult R.exechopygus

Adult Rhacophorus exechopygus

As mentioned by Chris in his previous posts, one of the interesting adaptations we have been investigating is the ability for some amphibians to reflect light in the infrared spectrum. This may have multiple benefits; one to aid in camouflage, as this increases their ability to match the leaves that they sit on when resting, and a second to perhaps aid in thermoregulation. The reflectance has mostly been described in Central and South American species, such as the leaf frogs that we work with in The Vivarium.


This ability has also been observed in unrelated species of amphibians from other parts of the world that also live in a similar way to leaf frogs and is a great example of convergent evolution; how unrelated species have evolved similar adaptations as they live within a similar environment.


Young Rhacophorus exechopygus

One species that Chris and I are currently working with in the vivarium is the Tramlap Flying Frog, Rhacophorus exechopygus, from Vietnam and Laos. These are also a leaf sitting tree frog, much like their Central American counterparts we are used to working with in the Museum. Despite being completely unrelated to Phyllomedusine Leaf frogs we have found they also have the same ability to reflect infrared light. What is even more interesting is that the colour and pattern of the frogs changes visibly as they mature, (as seen in the image to the left and above).

We have found that their ability to reflect infrared in the non-visible develops with the visible change – young frogs almost completely lack the ability to reflect and then they gradually develop this as their skin colour visibly changes. The graph below shows the big difference in spectra between a young and adult frog’s ability to reflect in the infrared. Chris and I regularly meet in the vivarium to collect data from our frogs as they continue to grow and change colour, so that we can document the development of this amazing adaptation. Our findings will be published in the very near future.

Spectra graph

Difference in IR reflectance between a young and adult R.exechopygus (blue line shows level of increased reflectance in adult at approximately 700nm.

             Chris’s Research               Colour Changing Frogs 

My time at the vivarium

photo[3]My name is Kirsty and if you have visited the vivarium within the past few weeks you may have seen me helping out the other members of staff here. I am about to finish studying my foundation degree in zoo management and in order to gain my degree I needed to complete a five week work placement, which is what I have been doing here at the vivarium. Before starting my placement, I already had an interest in herpetology as a hobby and even keep some reptiles at home.

In my past experience I have mainly worked with reptiles and by working at the vivarium I have managed to gain much more knowledge on keeping amphibians.

Conservation is another one of my main interests and it was great to learn about the conservation projects that the vivarium are a part of.

photo[1]The experience of working within a collection that is so focused on conservation helped me learn a lot more about how ex situ breeding projects work and how valuable these projects are. I also got to work with species I had never even heard of before!

While I have been here I have been helping with a range of different things including maintaining the vivariums and helping with some of the animal handling sessions.

photoIt was interesting to learn how the collection at the vivarium varies from other animal collections I have worked with previously and in the future I want to carry on working with endangered reptiles and amphibians, hopefully both in the wild and in captivity. The experience I have gained during my time here at the vivarium will come in very useful when pursuing my future career options.

Finally, I want to say a big thank you to all of the staff here at the vivarium for helping me have the best experience possible and teaching me so much that I didn’t know about these amazing animals.

Theo Jolliffe

Theo Jolliffe can put his umbrella down now he's back in Manchester!

Theo can put his umbrella down with a smile now he’s back in Manchester!

Now back from Central America we actually experiencing better weather here in Manchester than rainy Costa Rica! It was a great trip though and although we got a little washed out at La Selva it was a still wonderful experience for all involved. Apart from our zoology, biology, and plant science students on the field course, this year we were also joined by Digital Media Intern Theo Jolliffe, who was shooting a short film whilst out there.

Theo’s one of our zoology graduates but is interested in ethnology. He’s also highly skilled with a film camera and has been producing some excellent quality short films. Here is a taste of his work in Costa Rica:

Pit Vipers, Floods and Cacao farms         Anna Kell Student Diary – Costa Rica