‘Beautiful’ harlequin frogs bred outside Panama for the 1st time
Andrew Gray is now a proud caretaker of 23 “absolutely stunning frogs.”
The British scientist led the team that successfully bred critically endangered variable harlequin toads, a type of frog, in captivity outside their country of origin for the first time.
“We started off with six and we’ve now got an extra 17 little babies,” Gray, curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Manchester Museum, told As It Happens host Carol Off.
“They’re really, really beautiful.”
The bright yellow toads are native to the rainforests of Panama and Costa Rica, but are extremely rare.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as “critically endangered,” citing global warming, human encroachment, and a deadly parasitic fungus as threats to their rapidly dwindling populations.
But there’s been a strong move toward reviving the species in Panama in recent years, and the folks at the Panama Wildlife Charity (PWCC) decided to team up with the University of Manchester’s museum to breed a “back-up” population in England.
“Looking after our global biodiversity must be a top priority for all citizens in this world. We are proud to use the conservation of the harlequin toad of Panama as an example of the positive difference we can make,” PWCC director Luis Urena said in a press release.
But an aquarium in Manchester is a far cry from the lush rainforests of South and Central America. The team had to re-create the amphibians’ natural habitat as best they could.
Before the pandemic lockdowns, Gray’s team took a trip to the Santa Fe National Park in Panama and placed data trackers along the streams where the toads naturally breed.
“That sent us information back on the humidity, the dew point, temperature, rainfall — the whole lot,” he said.
“So we used that data. We replicated it exactly back in Manchester. Even the flow of the water, the water levels, everything, to mimic what they would be experiencing in the wild. And it did the trick.”
The team is now using the frogs to raise awareness and funds for their conservation.
If the species becomes extinct in Panama, Gray says they could breed more tadpoles in captivity and introduce them back into the wild.
“But it would mean that they’d already disappeared for us to do that,” he said. “And I hope it never, ever gets to that stage.”