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Mysterious markings

(A) C. sylviae (B) C. calcarifer (C) C. craspedopus

Sometimes the distinction between similar species can be quite minimal, with only the identification of tiny features separating them. However, as well as having an equal genetic difference separating all three Cruziohyla species, their individual visual characteristics are readily identifiable.

Unusual ventral markings found on the true Splendid Leaf Frog, C. calcarifer (c) A. Gray

A key morphological feature that has been described for the first time as part of the review of the genus Cruziohyla and the presentation of the new species has been the identification of unusual ventral markings only seen on the true Cruziohyla calcarifer.

Many other characters separate the three different species in this group of frogs, including their skin patterns, eardrum sizes, hands and feet, and of course their call. The unusual dark markings found on the undersides of the true splendid leaf frogs,  C. calcarifer, are a very unusual feature to be found on any frog. Further investigation is currently underway to try and determine their function.


Request complimentary copy of the paper

Amphibian Species of the World

New Splendid Species Discovered

New species discovery means iconic animal could be much closer to extinction than we thought!

Sylvia Gray holds Sylvia’s Tree Frog, Cruziohyla sylviae (c) University of Manchester

One of the world’s most spectacular frogs has remained under the radar of zoologists for almost 100 years. Sylvia’s Tree Frog, Cruziohyla sylviae sp n.was originally collected in Panama in 1925 but has remained confused with the Splendid Tree Frog, Cruziohyla calcarifer, ever since.

The discovery of the new species has been the accumulation of over 20 years work specialising in this unusual group of frogs from Central and South America, both in the wild and in the live amphibian collection at Manchester Museum. I am honored to have the pleasure of naming it after my beautiful first grandchild, Sylvia Beatrice Gray.

Sir David Attenborough with Sylvia’s Tree Frog at Manchester Museum (c) Andrew Gray


The discovery highlights that the original Splendid Tree Frog, first collected in 1902, remains much rarer than anyone ever realised. It is remarkable that such a distinctive new species has remained undetected for such a long time, but more importantly this work highlights that an assessment of the conservation needs for each species of Cruziohyla is also urgently required to ensure these amazing creatures are still around in another 100 years.


Request complimentary copy of the paper

Amphibian Species of the World

New lizards on display

Many of our visitors will know that the primary focus of the Vivarium collection supports our work with rare and endangered Central and South American frog species. However we also have a number of unusual reptile species on exhibit, which all have their own uniquely captivating appearances and behaviours.

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Indian Grass Lizard, Takydromus sexlineatus

Recent visitors to the Vivarium will have noticed an exciting change in our gallery, with the unveiling of our new Indian Grass Lizard (Takydromus sexlineatus) exhibit. These lizards, which are native to areas across Asia including  India, China, Thailand and Indonesia, have slightly prehensile tails which can grow up to three times the size of their body length.


New Tea plantation and Indian grass lizard exhibit at Manchester Museum

They naturally occur in grasslands and have also adapted to live in agricultural areas, such as tea plantations. We were recently lucky enough to acquire our group from Chester Zoo, and our new exhibit, which replicates a corner of an Assam tea plantation,  is home from home for them. It features as our newest link to the upcoming South Asia Gallery, our stunning new development which will open in Manchester Museum in 2020.

Young Cone-headed Lizard, Takydromus sexlineatus, hatching behind the scenes at Manchester Museum (C) Katherine Majewski

This past spring a number of Vivarium visitors were lucky enough to witness one of our other lizard species, our Cone-headed Lizards (Laemanctus longipes), laying eggs within our large Amazonian exhibit. They were amazed at the sight. The eggs were taken out by us and incubated behind the scenes for safe keeping and this month we were thrilled to welcome a group of young cone-headed lizards into the world, and into our vivarium collection.


Find out more about Manchester Museum’s exciting new South Asia Gallery

Beautiful badgers

Brock bottom

Loving La Selva


Looking good in wellies! This years staff and students © Alex Villegas

Over the last week, the University of Manchester field course has been based out of La Selva Biological Station, Heredia province. This world-renowned site for biological study has hosted researchers and students for over 50 years. It is a great experience for our students to be able to sample the atmosphere of one of the most productive field sites in the tropics, sharing tables with top researchers from around the world, and even watching some of the unfolding world cup with them!



Misfit leaf frog (Agalychnis saltator) © Matthew O’Donnell

Our week at Macaw lodge equipped everyone with the necessary skills to carry out their individual research project. I had my hands full with 8 students to supervise, but I can happily say they were great. It was very exciting to see the presentations and see just how well they all did. Projects ranged from poison frog abundance and environmental parameters, to measuring and comparing tree frogs from different habitats.

The diversity of amphibians and reptiles at La Selva is staggering, whilst we didn’t quite have as much rain as expected, we were still able to find a large range of species in abundance, enabling everyones work to run smoothly.


Me and Alex after a hard weeks work! © Alex Villegas

This week was also a great opportunity to work closely with my colleagues on the field course, Professor Amanda Bamford (Course leader), Alex Villegas (Swarovski Optik), Dmitri Logunov (Curator of Arthropods), and Frankie Elsner-Gearing (Demonstrator). From beta testing new University of Manchester software, to assisting with documenting orchid bees! I would like to extend my thanks to each of them, as their help and assistance was of great value to me during my 2 weeks on the field course. I would also like to thank, Andrew Gray, who’s trust and advice was invaluable for my participation, it was a great honour to represent Manchester Museum and the University, one I hope to repeat in the future.

A special mention must also go to the students, who were without exception a pleasure to work with. They were hardworking, professional and conducted themselves excellently across the whole two weeks. I would like to wish them every success for the future.

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Fabulous finds on the Pacific Coast


Professor Amanda Bamford’s lecture on Costa Rican life zones © Matthew O’Donnell

During our time on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica we have been introducing the students to the practicalities of tropical field work. This has involved several lectures from the expert teaching staff as well as practical work in the forests around our field centre, from the diverse sampling techniques for invertebrates lead by Manchester Museum Curator of Arthropods Dmitri Logunov, to plant identification and plant dissection with Professor Amanda Bamford.

Alongside my lecture I have also been leading nightly herpetological walks, introducing the students to the exciting, exhausting and enthralling world of reptile and amphibian study.


Sustainability tour at Macaw lodge featuring stingless meliponini bees! © Matthew O’Donnell

This experience will be vital to prepare the students for La Selva Biological Station. Where they will be conducting their independent research projects. We have been fortunate to encounter many species of reptile and amphibians during the last week, and hopefully La Selva will prove to be just a fruitful! Below is a small sample of the species we have encountered.

We have also had the opportunity to visit some of the nearby reserves, including the world renowned Manuel Antonio National Park, where we were treated to some up-close mammal encounters!


Manuel Antonio National Park © Matthew O’Donnell

We were also treated to a talk from Pablo Gordienko, the founder of Macaw lodge, who explained his vision for sustainability and self sufficiency which underpins the unique work of Macaw lodge, from running 100% off solar power, to growing large proportions of the menu in their own gardens. I would like to extend both my own and my colleagues sincere thanks to all the staff at Macaw lodge who made our visit very special!

Costa del Crocs                                                       Costa Rica field course

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Costa del Crocs


Rainforest bound © Matthew O’Donnell

It’s that time of year again, where University of Manchester students have the opportunity to visit Costa Rica, to experience the full diversity of life that the tropics has to offer. This annual field course, gives students an introduction to a huge range of scientific practices, from field research to scientific drawing and many more.

This year I have the opportunity to assist with the field course and help educate the students on the wonderful range of amphibian and reptile diversity of Costa Rica.


Our pacific base for the next week – Macaw Lodge © Matthew O’Donnell

In a change to the regular format this year’s cohort have the chance to visit both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the country. Split down the middle by formidable mountains, the two coast of Costa Rica are very distinct. The plants and animals found on one side can be completely different from those on the other! Some might look similar but have some subtle distinctions that separate them.

This all adds to the excitement for both staff and students alike, being able to understand the changes in plants and animals between ecoregions is a key skill for any budding biologist. We are currently compiling information from the pacific and will use it to compare with our findings on the Atlantic coast next week.


Students hunting for wildlife on the Tárcoles river © Prof. Amanda Bamford 

First stop on our pacific adventure was to visit Rio Grande Tárcoles (Tárcoles river), where we boarded the “Jungle Crocodile Safari” tour to spot some of the rivers most infamous residents. It wasn’t long before we spotted our first American crocodile (Crocodylus actus). These formidable animals have declined across much of their range, due to habitat loss and overexploitation resulting in their classification as vulnerable to extinction, however, this region of Costa Rica represents a stronghold.

A few large males have attained huge sizes of five meters plus, meaning they are at least 60 years old. Some impressive animals have even been affectionately named, such as one known as Lady Gaga!


Over five meter American Crocodile (Crocodylus actus) © Matthew O’Donnell

We were also treated to a delightful variety of bird species, including a fabulous flyby from the scarlet macaw (Ara macao). What a start to my first day on the job! 

Costa Rican Field Course