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Rainforest Big Saturday!

photo[10]Last Saturday saw our Rainforest themed Big Saturday event bursting with live animals and hands-on arts and craft activities for all the family, including making frog puppets and rainforest snakes! It provided a wonderful opportunity for our visitors to get up close and personal with our animals and experts!


Not only did we have handling tables full of reptiles and amphibians from the Vivarium but others from collections including those of the North West Reptile Club, who were fantastic. We were also be joined by world experts of other fascinating creatures and plants of the world’s rainforests.

There was rainforest music and talks, including a specialist tour from Lucy Marland – star of our Learning with Lucy programme, who gave a really wonderful tour of our vivarium.

We hope all who attended throughly enjoyed it and we would like to give an extremely big thank you to all who supported the day and made it such a highly successful event!

Poison frogs of the Osa peninsula

I returned to the beautiful Central American wildlife paradise which is Costa Rica in April this year. It was always going to be a bit hit and miss in terms of finding amphibians, being the end of the dry season and this turned out to be the case. After several attempts at the beginning of the trip to find an urban population of Agalychnis annae, I became concerned that the extreme drought of recent months would make the trip a disaster. Needless to say no Blue-sided tree frogs could be found, not surprising as all of the vegetation surrounding their breeding ponds was dying off.

DSCN0358Fortunately things would improve as we boarded our small plane to Puerto Jiménez in the Osa Peninsula. We spent 6 days and nights at the beautiful La Tarde finca on the edges of the Corcovado National Park and the moved onto La Bahía de Drake area afterwards. Thanks to Eduardo, the owner of the finca we could find some beautiful amphibians despite the drought. A few brief spells of rain in the late afternoon on 2 days really made all the difference for finding some species. This is one of the few places in Osa where all of the areas poison dart frogs can be found together. The granulated poison frog (Oophaga granulifera) was the first species we encountered, not by day but sleeping by night. On the previously mentioned rainy afternoons we soon found more out calling and hunting by day and then several more sleeping on leaves at night. A species I expected to be common here was in fact the trickiest to find, I’m pleased to say I found them all by myself in the end! The Green and black poison frog (Dendrobates auratus) is a common species in many parts of Costa Rica but not in the Osa peninsula. After many hours of hiking trails by day I eventually found three adult individuals. Their patterns here differ somewhat to those further north. Whilst searching for the green and blacks we came across a nice water fall with a stream below it. Here we found a dense population of Lowland rocket poison frog (Silverstoneia flotator). These are tiny frogs and seem to spend a lot of their time sitting on damp rocks by the stream edge.

In terms of poison frogs, we saved the best until last. After a long hike back to the finca I bumped into Eduardo and I asked him about the Golfo Dulce poison frog (Phyllobates vittatus). He said they were tricky but he told me of a nice “riachuelo” where they can be found in good numbers and that he would take me there! Within minutes we started hiking again, after a nice rain shower into a very dense area of rainforest with no trails. We hacked through vegetation to reach the stream and straight away we heard the calls not only of granulifera but also the much desired vittatus! “Matt, aquí hay una!” We found one straight away soon followed by 6 more adult individuals. These are bigger frogs than I expected and turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip! Thanks Eduardo! Later on at Drake Bay I visited another place where I was lucky to find 2 more of these frogs under leaf litter at night. Despite the drought we found lots of other amphibians which I will share in a later post.

Patience is a virtue

craspedepusmain20 years ago I spent a whole month in the Ecuadorian jungle searching for what was then the rarest leaf frog, Cruziohyla craspedopus, a fringed-legged species with unusual adaptations. It was near Yasuni, deep in Amazonia. One special night my friend and I found a small group of them, males calling around a breeding site, which was inside a fallen tree.

It was so rare in those days, and my friend filmed the species for the very first time in the world. I collected a few eggs with a permit and returned to Manchester. I nurtured them knowing I would never be able to go back and find more. 7 eggs survived and developed to adulthood.

As things would have it all the adults turned out to be male – I was gutted, but kept them very well and it was so special to have them in our collection for many years. They formed the basis of new amphibian research for me, students at Manchester, and others across the globe.


Breeding chamber for Cruziohyla by Adam Bland

Having had success with the related species, Sylvia’s Tree Frog, Cruziohyla sylviae, and being the first to breed the species in captivity, we distributed young out to various other institutions back in 2009, including providing Atlanta Botanical Gardens with the first ones ever in the USA.

As fate would have it, the year before last they were able to provide us with a small number of Fringed Leaf frog tadpoles in return. Again, we really didn’t now what sexes of the animals developed we would end up with and have had our fingers crossed it wouldn’t be a repeat of last time.

However, Today, we found out..

Craspedopus amplexus 2

Cruziohyla craspedopus in amplexus (c) Adam Bland

Adam put great effort into setting the frogs up for breeding last week in a wonderfully furnished ‘rain chamber’, mimicking natural conditions to exact detail. As with other things, we have been waiting patiently to see what would happen, but nothing did. We resided ourselves that perhaps we had no female, it was time to acknowledge that. It wasn’t going to happen on any account. Today was the day to take the frogs out and strip down the tank. But, it seems just when you accept those thoughts some remarkable things can happen.. This morning I woke with a smile, some unexpected things have happened with me, but also I got a wonderful set of messages from Adam.

Craspedopus spawning (c) A Bland

C. craspedopus spawning (c) A Bland

First was that a frog we thought was a male had suddenly become larger, almost overnight. Then another male was in amplexus with it and this morning at 10am the pair laid a clutch of pearl white eggs. It seems the flanges of this unusual species were used throughout the egg laying to help adhere the eggs to the wire they had been laid on.

Many congratulations to Adam, who has achieved what I couldn’t many years ago, and so we can now add the breeding of this amazing species to our department’s breeding achievements. We would both like to thank Mark Mandica in Atlanda for his kindness in providing us with the new opportunity to gain great pleasure in keeping and breeding this species, and I would like to thank Adam for his dedication, patience, and support.

Video: Finding C. craspedopus   

Video: Manchester frogs to USA

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