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Uncovering the decline of common toads in the UK

Hi, my name is Rémi Martin and I have been invited to post about my PhD which investigates why toads in the UK are declining. During the past two decades, there has been growing concern about the decline of many common toad (Bufo bufo) populations across the UK. Despite recognition of decline, little is known about the extent and its causes (where and why?). This is partly due to a lack of extensive demographic surveying of the common toad population, especially when compared to more emblematic British species such as the natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita).

In absence of such studies, genetic assessment of populations across the country appears as a good approach to quickly assess population health. The main focus of the PhD project consists of gathering genetic samples from diverse populations across the whole of the UK that would help draw a (partial) genetic map of the country.

Samples are collected by non-invasive mouth swabbing. Looking also at museum specimens (including some of those maintained in Manchester Museum’s collection) will also enable us to compare past and present genetic diversity for some precise localities, giving us more clues into understanding fluctuations in the size of populations. Restricted to some specific localities in Shropshire, we would also like to take a closer look at the potential causes involved in population decline, monitoring some environmental contaminant in ponds during tadpole development.

Overall this project is a first step towards answering the question: where are populations declining?  But much more would be needed to answer the question: why? A mixture of various factors is expected to be responsible for decline and the relative importance of each factor is likely to vary locally. We hope the results generated by this research (that are yet to come) will give some insight into understanding the common toad rarefaction in Britain and serve as a basis for future conservation actions at the national level.

Common toad, Bufo Bufo


Bufo bufo Project

ARC Trust

Quite a Splendid Tadpole

I would like to share with you about a special frog that’s very close to my heart..

Cruziohyla calcarifer, the original Splendid Leaf Frog, which originates from Ecuador was first discovered almost 120 years ago – It’s a species that has remained extremely rare and very difficult to study in the wild. I first saw and read about it in an animal encyclopaedia when I was about 7 years old, and I was lucky enough to first come across it in Ecuador about 20 years ago thanks to Morley Reid, Luis Coloma and Santiago Ron. Only approximately 50 adult specimens have been found since it was first described and almost nothing has been known of the frogs’ breeding biology. Although somewhat confused with that of C. sylviae, to date the tadpole of the true C. calcarifer has never been described.

However, following detailed research and the first captive breeding of the species in captivity we are able to detail the species’ breeding biology and tadpole for the very first time. As such, it gives me great pleasure to share with you the resulting paper published in the British Herpetological Society’s Journal of Herpetology.

The work has been good to focus on during lockdown and represents a collaboration between myself and Konstantin Taupp, and also Loic Denes from the Paris Zoo, who’s captive work with other species in this genus is well recognised. The support and genetic work of Franziska Elsner-Gearing from the University of Manchester’s faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health has been instrumental, and another top contributor from Manchester, David Bewick, kindly provided accompanying illustrations. I would sincerely like to thank them all for their highly valued contribution to this significant herpetological description.



Working together for wildflowers

This year, it seems there has been more emphasis than ever on saving our native plants. Since the 1930s the UK has lost 97% of our meadows due to the expansion of urbanised areas and of farmland after the Second World War.

Primrose, bluebells and creeping buttercup

According to the wildlife gardening forum, UK gardens equal 433,000 hectares, the equivalent of a fifth of Wales. In England alone, our garden area is more than four and a half times larger than that of our National Nature Reserves. Boosting the biodiversity of our gardens could make a big impact on connecting the UK’s pollinators and saving species on the brink of extinction.

I was keen to embrace Plantlife’s ‘no mow may’ campaign this year and only half way through the month I am already noticing a wealth of native plants popping up across my lawn, which wouldn’t usually have chance to make an appearance before the lawn mower thwarted them.

Primrose, dandelion, bramble and creeping buttercup

Species such as hart’s tongue fern, common polypody, chickweed, primrose, bluebells, cuckoos pint, storksbill and iris have made an appearance along with the commonly spotted lawn weeds such as daisies and dandelions. As many as ten different species are growing within a square metre of lawn, and several species pop up between paving stones.

Whilst observing and identifying the new variety of plant species cropping up in my garden, I have also noticed several species of insect, such as tawny mining bees, white legged snake millipedes, damselfly larvae and white-lipped snails that I hadn’t noticed before, maybe in response to the wider range of plants to feed on and shelter beneath. Any boost in insect populations will no doubt help the food chain above them thrive and help ensure that I will be able to appreciate nature in my own garden well in to the future.

In recent times we have appreciated nature more than ever and now we need to give back, put away our mowers, let those weeds grow and help nature thrive.

Plantlife – No Mow May

60 Second Species

Don’t Hover on the Bee Day

Don’t hover around when its time to take action – today we celebrate World Bee Day!

Most of the 25,000 to 30,000 species of bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) are effective pollinators, and together with moths, flies, wasps, beetles, and butterflies, they make up the majority of pollinating species.

Bees and other pollinators are increasingly under threat from human activities. Pollination is, however, a fundamental process for the survival of our ecosystems. Nearly 90% of the world’s wild flowering plant species depend, entirely, or at least in part, on animal pollination, along with more than 75% of the world’s food crops and 35% of global agricultural land. Not only do pollinators contribute directly to food security, but they are key to conserving biodiversity.

To raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development, the UN designated 20 May as World Bee Day.

How can we do more? 

  • planting a diverse set of native plants, which flower at different times of the year;
  • buying raw honey from local farmers;
  • buying products from sustainable agricultural practices;
  • avoiding pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in our gardens;
  • protecting wild bee colonies when possible;
  • sponsoring a hive;
  • making a bee water fountain by leaving a water bowl outside;
  • helping sustaining forest ecosystems;

Raising awareness and sharing information about bees is crucial; The decline of bees affects us all!

World Bee Day.

Salford’s 60 Second Species

You might have caught some of our new online video series 60 Second Species, that debuted earlier this year. This exciting series has been highlighting some of the fascinating species we have interacted with over the years during our field work. We are now in the process of producing some videos of our beautiful and often overlooked native flora and fauna. If you have a keen eye for wildlife and want to learn more about some of the species on our doorsteps (as well as around the world), please head over to our site to catch a new video uploaded every Wednesday!

Our first native amphibian in the series is the inimitable Common Frog (Rana temporaria). Filmed in Peel Park, Salford, whilst teaching undergraduate students from the University of Salford. This is one of my favourite frogs, and the species which really captured my imagination as a young child and led me down the path of herpetology!

60 Second Species

Behind the Glass- Harlequin Toads in Manchester

Hello to all frog blog visitors! 

My name is Lewis, a final year zoology student at the University of Manchester and a volunteer here at the Vivarium. Like many of you, I have been counting down the days before we are able to visit the museum once again- the wait is almost over! In the meantime, I have been fortunate enough to focus my final year university project on the Harlequin toad and the success of the Atelopus Project.

My project aims to see how effective comic-assisted e-learning is at explaining a scientific subject- the subject being captive breeding programmes. Witnessing first-hand the hard work and dedication of the Vivarium staff- reflected by the recent announcement of the first successfully bred Harlequin toads outside of Panama- I have been inspired to incorporate this story into a comic book which the vivarium has kindly allowed me to share with you on the frog blog.

As part of the project, I have to collect some data. This means that you are required to answer some questions but don’t worry, your answers are completely anonymous. After answering the first block of questions you will be prompted to click the link for the comic, which will open in a new window. After reading the comic you are required to return to the window with the survey and complete the second block of questions. To finish, I just require some feedback on your experience. 

The whole process takes no more than 15 minutes! 

Thank you for contributing to my final year project, the link is down below!



The Manchester Museum is very well known for its Taxidermy, but is also now pleased to be involved with.. Wulydermy. For Louise Worthington, the founder of Wulydermy, who’s been perfecting the art of sculptural needle felt, has been so inspired by our recent Santa Fe Harlequin Toad Breeding that she has been working on a new project – you guessed it, producing a beautiful felted Harlequin Toad.

Not only has Louise made some fabulous felted tropical toads to add to her collection but has very kindly made available a step by step set of instructions for you to easily make your very own. All the profits from this set of instructions will be donated directly to the Panama Wildlife Conservation Charity (PWCC) to support the Harlequin Toads from the Santa Fe National Park, Panama, and we are very grateful to Louise for all her support.

More usually inspired by the British countryside, Louise makes unique, life size animals and birds, using sculptural needle felt techniques. She only uses top quality British Rare Breeds wool, British wools. The Needle felt, and the launch of ‘Wulydermy’ has allowed Louise to combine her passion for the British countryside and wildlife into a full time job.

She runs online workshops that have stemmed from her knowledge of creating original needle-felted animals, and ‘Wulydermy’ has been accredited by the The Rare Breeds Survival Trust, who support the future of rare and native breeds.

Apart from the new Harlequin Toads, Louise offers a great range of British Wool Needle Felt Kits for you to make your own felted creatures.

She inspires others to care for wildlife and to felt with 100% British wool and that from rare breeds, which in turn supports their conservation.



Organic Sylvia’s Frog T-Shirt

The perfect Easter gift for any young zoologist or budding herpetologist out there …

Made from 100% certified organic cotton, using eco-friendly water-based inks, and delivered in plastic free packaging, these highest quality T-shirts are available in sizes from ages 3 – 14 years and really are something special. 






Organic Cruziohyla sylviae T-SHIRT

Adult Splendid Frog Clothing Range 

60 Second Species!

Our 60 Second Species series, showing a variety of different types of wild animals and plants, started last week and will be added to on a weekly basis (each Wednesday). These short snippets feature wildlife in their country of origin (where they belong) and make easy watching and learning opportunities for all ages. It was actually Kasia Majewski who came up with the great idea – and the name, so thanks Kasia.

Whist the first ones will perhaps be a bit of a blast from the past for many of our followers, as the spring approaches our vivarium team will be out and about to highlight some of our incredible native flora and fauna in videos your’e sure to love. Here is one from Borneo by Matt (below), and you will find the ever growing 60 Second series a permeant feature on the frogblog from now on (See side & top tabs). Hope you enjoy.


Varius views

Everyone is entitled to their own views, particularly if based on fact. Here are some Atelopus varius facts, as we currently know them.


Atelopus varius, Panama (c) Andrew Gray

Atelopus zeteki, Panama (c) Andrew Gray, Courtesy of The Vancouver Aquarium.


  • Atelopus varius and Atelopus zeteki have been confused for a long time, with Atelopus zeteki being previously considered to be a sub-species (Atelopus varius zeteki). Taxonomy of these is a tricky area. However, this was clarified by Kim, Brown and Mosher as far back as 1975, when the presence of distinct toxins in A. zeteki helped to differentiate it from the closely related but distinctly different A. varius. The two different species have been confirmed in subsequent publications by Savage (2002) and Richard and Knowles (2007), to name a couple of key references.

Kim, Y.H., Brown, G.B. and Mosher, F.A., 1975. Tetrodotoxin: Occurrence in atelopid frogs of Costa Rica. Science, 189(4197), pp.151-152.

Richards, C.L. and Knowles, L.L., 2007. Tests of phenotypic and genetic concordance and their application to the conservation of Panamanian golden frogs (Anura, Bufonidae). Molecular Ecology, 16 (15), pp.3119-3133.

Savage, J.M., 2002. The amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica: a herpetofauna between two continents, between two seas. University of Chicago press.



North American and Canadian collections have been working with A. zeteki since the early 2000’s and many institutions have successfully maintained and reproduced this critically endangered amphibian, which is a fantastic achievement that we are all very much aware of. These frogs have been successfully and professionally managed under the project ‘Golden Frog Project‘. We are also now aware that some of the animals exported to the USA from the El Cope region of Panama represented distinct evolutionary significant units that were certainly within the  genetic range of Atelopus varius. Some of the highly commendable work and captive breeding done with these frogs in US zoos, particularly by Detroit Zoo, deserves special mention.


  • Regarding work with A. varius already being done in Panama, this is well documented. Two noteworthy institutions include the Gamboa Amphibian Rescue Centre and El Valle Amphibian Conservation Centre, both of which are working with A. varius (amongst other species) and both conducting excellent work in captive breeding.


  • Manchester Museum do not claim to be the first in the world to reproduce A. varius from Santa Fe in captivity, just the first outside of Panama. It is important to highlight that the population Manchester Museum are working with is exclusively from Santa Fe National Park and that it represents a unique population. This population is facing several threats, including a road being built through the site and illegal deforestation and land clearances.


  • To our knowledge nobody else apart from Manchester Museum has been granted permission to collect and export A. varius from Santa Fe by the Panamanian Government. These populations were discovered 13 years ago (2008) by two Panamanian biologists and Dr Eric Flores.  Dr. Eric Flores is a Panamanian that as devoted his life to the study and conservation of endangered frogs in Santa Fe, Veraguas, Panama.  Specimens from this specific population were first introduced to EVACC by Dr. Flores, now a key collaborator with Manchester Museum and PWCC.


  • Manchester Museum are developing an important A. varius conservation project in collaboration with  the University of Panama and the NGO Panama Wildlife Conservation.  Together, they are directly supporting conservation and research activities inside Santa Fe National park. They are working directly with communities, monitoring local populations, developing Harlequin Frogs festivals, and environmental education workshops in Santa Fe, Panama.


  • Several important initiatives are trying to protect this species. The PWCC and Manchester Museum Atelopus varius Conservation Project believes in collaboration and supporting the work others, and although happy not to participate in the US led Atelopus varius initiatives we recognise that EVACC and the Smithsonian are conducting commendable work with this species in Panama, as are some collections involved in Project Golden Frog in the US.



We welcome your Varius views – comments are enabled