Tag Archives: Endemic

Adventure of a Lifetime – Frogs, Lemurs and More.

Hi everyone,

It has been a while since I have updated the website and made an entry upon it, so here is me making up for it with my announcement that I will be embarking on my next trip to Madagascar, the island of marvels.

It has been an incredibly long time since I started to plan this epic adventure, with months of planning, excitement, nerves and reading (lots of reading). It will be a mixtuure of sleeping in a tent in the middle of a rainforest or on a beach, to staying in little villages and towns along the way.

Oh, I kind of forgot to actually say where abouts I shall be traveling, that would help a lot wouldn’t it… So my course of travel is, when I land at Antananarivo airport, to go straight out into the Perinet region and the town of Andasibe, remaining there for a few days and then to venture all the way North to Nosy Mangabe. We will then work our way back down to Andasibe via Toamasina/Tamatave, which doesnt sound like a long distance but, it really is.

It will truly be a Planes, Trains and Automobile journey, taking all forms of transportation including by boat also!

IF you want to keep up to date with my adventures then please don’t hesitate to like my Facebook Like Page – MantellaMan Conservation – to see my photograph and information updates!

Take care for now, wish me luck because I am gonna need it!

Joshua Ralph
(MantellaMan)

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MARVELLOUS MANTELLA – Natural History, Husbandry & Reproduction of the Malagasy Poison Frogs.

MARVELLOUS MANTELLA
Natural History, Husbandry & Reproduction of the Malagasy Poison Frogs.
By Joshua S. Ralph

Contents:

  • Introduction.
  • Natural History & General Physiology of the Genus.
    • Taxonomy.
    • General Distribution Range.
    • General Appearance.
    • Toxicity of Malagasy Poison Frogs.
    • General Behaviour and Territoriality.
    • General Reproduction and Courtship.

INTRODUCTION

Exotic species of fauna such as Reptiles, Amphibians, Invertebrates, Birds and even Fish have both fascinated and intrigued humans for centuries with menageries dating back to the thirteenth century and possibly even further. This is especially true regarding the specific field of Zoology known as Herpetology (taken from the Greek ‘Herpeton’ – “Creeping Animals” and ‘Logia’ – “Knowledge”) – the study of Reptilia and Amphibia – which in the present day millions of people practice as a career and also as a hobby where all manner of species are kept within a captive setting. Many species that are kept, especially with Amphibians, are not only interesting from a behavioural view but also provide a wide kaleidoscope of various colourations and morphological patterns which are highly attractive and capture the imagination of the human mind. Of course, in most species this is a defensive mechanism referred to as ‘Aposematism‘ , which when you translate from Greek means “Warning Colouration”, which is either a product of their toxicity or a mimicry behaviour to show such abilities off regardless of not actually being toxic.

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Fig. 1 Phantasmal Poison Frog (Epipedobates tricolor) male calling, quite a popular species to keep in captivity. © 2013 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

The most obvious examples for this extreme defensive display, is the Neo-tropical family of Dendrobatidae, or commonly known as Poison Dart/Arrow Frogs which cover nearly 300 species over 18 different genera, and even these have numerous quantities of wild morphological variations. Literally far too many to actually be able to list here. This particular family is certainly one of the most popular inhabitants to keep within the terrarium in modern day keeping and  because of this, they are extensively researched as well as intensively bred to accommodate the demand of the International Pet Trade. In recent years, another genus of brilliantly coloured Anura (Frogs & Toads) have started to appear, more commonly, within private and zoological collections alike. This is the genus known as Mantella, the Malagasy ‘counterpart’ to the Neo-tropical Poison Dart Frog family.

These utterly beautiful and curiously intriguing little gems from the island of Madagascar, in the past have not received nearly as much attention, study or even a significant effort in the breeding of each species within a captive environment. Because of this lack of knowledge and efforts, specimens were extensively collection from the wild to satisfy the demand for them, for some of the species such as the Harlequin Mantella (Mantella cowanii) this has proved more than taxing with populations slowly disappearing and becoming smaller and smaller with each passing year.

 

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Fig. 2 Yellow Mantella (Mantella crocea) exhibits quite a few different colourations in the wild. © 2014 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

Personally, it is my hope that more people will take an interest in this particular genus and study their husbandry, behaviour and even start to breed them more extensively to help reduce the strain on the remaining populations in the wild. I have dedicated most of my life to the husbandry and accumulation of knowledge for these amphibians and would like to present this information for everyone, those who already keep species in captivity to people who are looking into working with them . But not only that, but to also raise awareness of the struggle some of these animals face and the conservation efforts in place to preserve them.


NATURAL HISTORY  & GENERAL PHYSIOLOGY OF THE GENUS

TAXONOMY

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Fig. 3 Alfred Grandidier, 1888.

In regards to Mantella, they are a perfect example and product of what is known as convergent-evolution – the individual evolution of a similar trait with  species of a different lineage – sharing huge similarities to Dendrobatidae from Latin America with size, appearance and also some aspects of their behaviour. Like stated above however, they are in no means related to their neo-tropical counterparts, but during the early description of the first specimens from 1866-1872, Alfred Grandidier a  famous French naturalist and taxonomist, described what is believed to be the Brown Leaf Mantella (Mantella betsileo) and placed it within the Dendrobates genus based upon their close resemblance with them. Of course, the entire placement of these new species was ambiguous and heavily debated but,  eventually time passed and in 1882 the genus of Mantella was created by George Albert Boulenger FRS, yet they were still incorrectly placed within the Dendrobatidae family. More and more species were discovered, and with it the phylogenetic categorisation of the genus expanded to what it is in the present say, containing sixteen species, each of which have their own colourations, behavioural traits and even environmental needs.

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Fig. 4 Brown Leaf Mantella (Mantella betsileo) was the first member of the genus now known as Mantella, to be described in 1872, under the original name of Dendrobates betsileo. © 2013 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

The species that are currently found within the genus, who described them and when they were discovered chronologically, is as follows (Please note that not all information, such as names,  can be found regarding the taxonomists etc):

  • Brown Leaf Mantella (Mantella betsileo) – Alfred Grandidier, 1872.
  • Madagascan Mantella (Mantella madagascariensis) – Alfred Grandidier, 1872.
  • Ebenau’s Mantella (Mantella ebenaui) – Oskar Boettger, 1880.
  • Harlequin Mantella (Mantella cowanii) – George Albert Boulenger FRS, 1882.
  • Baron’s Mantella (Mantella baroni) – George Albert Boulenger FRS, 1888.
  • Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) – François Mocquard, 1900.
  • Climbing Bamboo Mantella (Mantella laevigata) – Paul Ayshford Methuen & John Hewitt, 1913.
  • Beautiful Mantella (Mantella pulchra) – Parker, 1925.
  • Guibe’s Mantella (Mantella nigricans) – Jean Marius René Guibé, 1978.
  • Harald Meier’s Mantella (Mantella haraldmeieri) – Busse, 1981.
  • Green Mantella (Mantella viridis)- Pintak & Wolfgang Böhme, 1988.
  • Yellow Mantella (Mantella crocea) – Pintak & Wolfgang Böhme, 1990.
  • Blue-legged Mantella (Mantella expectata) – Busse & Wolfgang Böhme, 1992.
  • Bernhard’s Mantella (Mantella bernhardi) – Miguel Vences, Frank Glaw, Peyrieras, Wolfgang Böhme & Busse, 1994.
  • Black-eared Mantella (Mantella milotympanum) – Mark Staniszewski, 1996
  • Marojejy Mantella (Mantella manery) – Miguel Vences, Frank Glaw & Wolfgang Böhme, 1999.

Mantella belong to the anuran family of Mantellidae, a group which includes a current approximation (more species are yet to be described and researched properly) of 212 species (within 12 different genera) specifically from the island of Madagascar and Mayotte. They are under the following classification:

 

  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Amphibia (Lissamphibia – Modern day Amphibians)
  • Order: Anura
  • Family: Mantellidae
  • Subfamily: Mantellinae
  • Genus: Mantella.

Today, distinct species can be generally divided into several different phylogenetical groups which are determined by Morphological traits and also distribution, they are as follows:

‘Mantella baroni’ Group

  • Harald Meier’s Mantella (Mantella haraldmeieri),
  • Baron’s Mantella (Mantella baroni)
  • Guibe’s Mantella (Mantella nigricans)
  • Harlequin Mantella (Mantella cowanii)

Mantella bernhardi‘ Group

A single species is found within this grouping and is believed to be one of the smallest in size (Snout to Vent). It also has one of the most unique calls out of the entire genus.

  • Bernhard’s Mantella (Mantella bernhardi)

Mantella betsileo‘ Group

Some of the species found within the Betsileo Group are widely distributed  however, hard to distinguish morphologically (M.betsileo and M.ebenaui) or in colouration. The most common trait between each of the species within this group is the Horseshoe shape marking on the throat pouch/sac. They are descroibed as being one of the most basal species within the genus and are commonly found along costal regions.

  • Blue-legged Mantella (Mantella expectata),
  • Green Mantella (Mantella viridis),
  • Ebenau’s Mantella (Mantella ebenaui)
  • Brown Leaf Mantella (Mantella betsileo)

‘Mantella laevigata’ Group

  • Climbing Bamboo Mantella (Mantella laevigata),
  • Marojejy Mantella (Mantella manery),

‘Mantella madagascariensis’ Group

  • Madagascan Mantella (Mantella madagascariensis),
  • Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca),
  • Black-eared Mantella (Mantella milotympanum),
  • Yellow Mantella (Mantella crocea),
  • Beautiful Mantella (Mantella pulchra),

 

GENERAL DISTRIBUTION RANGE

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Measuring a grand total of 592,800 square kilometres (228,900 sq miles), Madagascar is the fourth largest island on the planet.

The Mantellidae family are Endemic to solely Madagascar and the Mayotte islands of the Indian Ocean, however Mantella will only occur on Madagascar and its slightly offshore Nosys (Small islands). When concentrating upon the Mantella species, you will notice that they actually can be found within a very wide spectrum of different assorted habitat types with even some species such as the Brown Leaf Mantella (Mantella betsileo) reportedly adapting to living amongst rubbish piles where food is plentiful, this of course is not seen in other species.
Obviously, depending on the species the habitat requirements/types vary depending on the where the localities are on the island. In basic description, the island is split in half right down the middle by a spine of mountains, this acts as a barrier for the rains and storms that travel from the Indian Ocean from the east. The eastern side of the island is essentially a mixed variety of swamplands, rainforests and coastal forests whilst the western parts are more desert, arid and drier woodland based environments.

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Fig. Distribution range of the entire Mantella genus with up-to-date records and descriptions. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

 

GENERAL APPEARANCE

The entire genus are definitely represent some of the smallest frogs in the world and range approximately 17mm to 40mm snout to vent, the smallest of them being Bernhard’s Mantella (M.bernhardi) which measures 22mm on average.  In general, the external features they posses are rounded bodies that, depending on the sex and also individuals in question, are stream-line to plump with a slender and angular head, slender forelimbs and stronger, more powerful hind-quarters.
However, when it comes to colouration, most of the sixteen species and their various locality variants are highly diverse which I will cover more later in future edits of this blog entry. The skin though, with colouration and morphology aside, is smooth in appearance to slightly granular with a shine or matt appearance.

Mantella External Physiology
Fig. 5

When looking at the Ventral side of the specimens, a pair of Femoral glands or pads are highly noticable when looking at the posterior of the specimen. This can be either distinctively marked with differently coloured flecking, or have a slightly raised and granular appearance which in Mantella species is one elongated and singular gland. This however in other Mantellinaes are normally separated rather than being continous, prime examples are members of the Mantidactylus genus.

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Fig. 6 Mantella crocea specimen performing ‘Thanatosis’ after being encouraged to do so. © 2012 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

These glands are not always easy to observe in certain Mantella, but with the appropriate lighting, a maginfying glass and a tiny bit of patience they could possibly be seen. There are a few ways to be able to see the venteral side of the each individual which is to encourage the animal into performing the behaviour named ‘Thanatosis‘ or also known as ‘Playing Dead’. This takes time and practice to do this properly and it can go wrong if not performed by someone experienced, however there is another safer way to looking at the venter and that is by placing the specimen in a vial or a clear plastic tub.

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Fig. 7 Brown Leaf Mantella (Mantella betsileo) placed in a tub to determine ventral markings. © 2013 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

In some species such as the Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca), rather than having distinction flecking they have instead a more distinguished colouration of the entire femoral gland, which is mroe reddish to dark orange in colouration. This can be incorrectly described and can cause panic amongst many keepers, as it shares its appearance with the lethal infection commonly known as “Red Leg”, a disease generally caused by the Aeromonas hydrophila a Gram-negative Bacteria. It doesn’t only infect Amphibia but also Fish and even Humans causing Gastroenteritis, which occurs in younger people or persons that have a weaker immune system.
The femoral glands/pads are more noticable in male specimens and more than likely, are present in the sex to be used in rubbing against the female during courtship, possibly to entice the female into laying the spawn.

Mantella External Venter
Fig. 8

Venteral flecking or blotches can be seen in a majority of Mantella species, except in the Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) and some localities ( that are yet to be determined and await further reasearch) of the Black-eared Mantella (Mantella milotympanum) which have no distinct markings and are basically uniform in appearance. Normally, venteral markings tend to be either white/cream or blueish in colouration and can be quite diverse in shape, size and even with being consistant between individuals of the same species. Some specimens having very few markings (for its species) and another having many, think of this like freckles on human with a slight difference. Examples of different venters between species can be seen in Fig. 6, 7, 8 and 9.

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Fig. 9 Blue-legged Mantella (Mantella expectata) performing ‘Thanatosis’ defensive behaviour. © 2014 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

These markings can also extend as far as forming a distinct pattern along  the edge of the throat pouch, this is normally is the shape of a ‘Horseshoe’ or even in certin species a more ‘Trident’ form (even this can be inconsistant and broken into several markings). Examples of different throat markings can be seen below in Fig. 10.

Throat Pouch
Fig. 10

TOXICITY OF MALAGASY POISON FROGS

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Fig.11 Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) showing off a dramatic colouration of dark orange. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

Extensive research has shown that all species of Mantella, to some degree are in fact toxic with pharmacologically active alkaloidal secretions, known as “Lipophilic alkaloids”. Obviously a product of their toxicity is their aposematically coloured appearance, that is designed to act as a frontline of defence warning, to ward off predators especially with species such as the Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) as seen in Fig. 11.

This blog entry is subject to change, regarding more informtion to be placed upon it and it to be more extensive.

 

 

Diurnal Hike at Mitsinjo (Analamazoatra) Forest Station – Video.

My first actual day (Excluding the travel day) into my trip to Madagascar whilst doing work at the Amphibian Survival Assurance Center of Andasibe (ASACA), a part of Association Mitsinjo.

After Work, I decided to go out into the reserve and see the wonders that are to be found in the forest, including Pygmy Leaf Chameleon (Brookesia superciliaris).

© 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

 

#AmphibianHero – Joshua Ralph (MantellaMan Conservation) Interview with the Amphibian Survival Alliance.

Red-spotted Bright-eyed Frog (Boophis rappiodes) offspring. © 2015 - Joshua Ralph - All Rights Reserved
Red-spotted Bright-eyed Frog (Boophis rappiodes) offspring. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved

An interview with Joshua Ralph, Batrachologist and Conservationist with MantellaMan Conservation, an Amphibian Survival Alliance Partner.

Amphibians the world over are facing probably the world’s most serious extinction crisis. What are your thoughts on the future prospects for amphibian conservation and preventing further extinctions?

Personally, I find it isn’t entirely productive thinking of what is going to happen or what might happen and you can get lost in the depressing state these animals are in. Instead, looking at the now, the present is more productive… You can’t change the past (unless you’re Marty McFly), but you can change the future with what we do now and how quickly we act to slow down or hopefully, halt the extinctions of hundreds of species.

I won’t deny, I see it like wading through a swamp, every step you take can make you anxious and fill with dread, not knowing if your next step is going to make you sink lower or rise above it. But, if we all work together I think we can get through it, make changes and save some species before they are lost forever to the abyss that is, extinction.

What do you think are some of the most promising developments in the fight to prevent further amphibian population declines?

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Joshua Ralph (MantellaMan) in the Bakozetra locality of the Torotorofotsy Wetlands Reserve with a Yellow Eastern Mantella (Mantella crocea) specimen. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

 Some of the most promising? There are already so many developments in the world that deserve recognition and I think one great example is the Amphibian Survival Assurance Centre of Andasibe facility at Association Mitsinjo. This isn’t just because of the successful conservation breeding of some of the country’s most threatened species of Amphibia, but also for the changes they have made to some of the local towns folk in the region, most of which it has changed their lives entirely.

Some of the staff members at the facility have contributed, in the past, to the decline of certain species of Amphibia but now they are maintaining breeding colonies of threatened species at Association Mitsinjo, performing screenings for Chytridiomycosis in the local areas and most of all, showing others how important it is to maintain their country’s wildlife.

Another development that I think is highly promising, regarding the future of our planets Amphibia, is the increase of the public’s awareness of the demise of these fascinating and beautiful form of life. With social media, awareness events and even in educational curriculums people are becoming more and more aware not only of the risks these animals face, but also about some of the behaviours exhibited and the vast biological diversity that can be found which needs saving.

Why did you join the Amphibian Survival Alliance and what are you doing to help protect amphibians? 

Mantella Man LogowhiteWe joined the ASA to try and make a contribution to the hard work they are already performing and raise even more awareness regarding the demise Amphibian life across the globe with a particular focus on Madagascar, the “island of marvels” as I like to call it.

MMC is dedicated to trying to raise awareness in any way possible, from performing educational talks to writing informative blogs and sharing information. But it has also been created to perform work in situ, by offering help at facilities such as the one found in Andasibe with the husbandry and breeding of these threatened species or even performing research that could itself make a difference.

What can the average person, as well as the private sector, do in order to tangibly and actively participate in amphibian conservation?

Keep on raising awareness, by sharing information even you, yourselves have learnt about regarding these animals and with social media such as Facebook and Twitter, it isn’t exactly difficult to do so. It takes a mere click to share something or but a few moments to have a read into a certain topic.

It doesn’t matter who you are, what age you are, what religion you believe in, you can make a difference no matter how small you believe it to be by continuing to spread information to your family, friends, colleagues and so on.

By Joshua Ralph,
MantellaMan Conservation

Orchids of Madagascar (Andasibe Region)

Hi Everyone,

Slightly different to my regular form of blog entry, normally my posts are very diverse showin all forms of Malagasy fauna and flora. However, this tim I will be looking at one particular topic, the species of Orchids that can be found upon the islands.

The Orchidaceae family, along with the Asteraceae, they are one of the two largest families of flowering plants on the planet with Orchidaceae having approximately 27,800 currently accepted species. Like with most of Madagascar’s fauna and flora species, it is home to nearly one thousand different species of orchids—which make up nearly ten percent of the island’s flora—with nearly 900 of them completely endemic. Most of them are known only from few odd specimens or appear to have restricted distributions with small populations. Assessments organised by conservation projects suggest that as many as 70 percent of species are threatened with extinction, but there is insufficient data to make accurate assessments.

Yet again, like the rest of the Island’s wildlife, Orchids are found in almost every habitat on the island, from the mountains to the coasts having adapted to even the harshest conditions.

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Yellow Star Thumb-nail Orchid (Angraecum rhynchoglossum) at the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Yellow Star Thumb-nail Orchid (Angraecum rhynchoglossum) at the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Yellow Star Thumb-nail Orchid (Angraecum rhynchoglossum) at the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Malagasy White Thumb-nail Orchid (Angraecum chamaeanthus) at Maromizaha Reserve Speciale, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Malagasy White Thumb-nail Orchid (Angraecum chamaeanthus) at Maromizaha Reserve Speciale, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Malagasy Thumb-nail Orchid (Angraecum chamaeanthus) at the Maromiazaha Reserve Speciale. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Purple Terrestrial Orchid (Cyinorchis sp.) from Maromizaha Reserve Speciale, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Bulb Orchid (Bulbophyllum sp) not in bloom, from Maromizaha Reserve Speciale, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Bulb Orchid (Bulbophyllum sp) not in bloom, from Maromizaha Reserve Speciale, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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© 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Pink Oeonia (Oeonia rosea) from Maromizaha Reserve Speciale, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Pink Oeonia (Oeonia rosea) from Maromizaha Reserve Speciale, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Pink Oeonia (Oeonia rosea) from Maromizaha Reserve Speciale, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Pink Oeonia (Oeonia rosea) from Maromizaha Reserve Speciale, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Bosser’s Green Thumb-nail Orchid (Lemurella pallidiflora) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Station, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Bosser’s Green Thumb-nail Orchid (Lemurella pallidiflora) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Station, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Bosser’s Green Thumb-nail Orchid (Lemurella pallidiflora) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Station, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Cream Single Flowering Aerangis (Aerangis monantha) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Reserve, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Analamazotra Bulb Orchid (Bulbophyllum analamazotrae) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Station, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Analamazotra Bulb Orchid (Bulbophyllum analamazotrae) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Station, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Analamazotra Bulb Orchid (Bulbophyllum analamazotrae) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Station, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Green Ariel Branch Orchid (Aeranthes ramosa) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Reserve, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Green Ariel Branch Orchid (Aeranthes ramosa) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Reserve, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Green Ariel Branch Orchid (Aeranthes ramosa) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Reserve, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Green Ariel Branch Orchid (Aeranthes ramosa) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Reserve, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Bulb Orchid (Bulbophyllum sp.) from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Station, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Unknown sp. from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Station, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
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Unknown sp. from Parc a Orchidees, Mitsinjo Forest Station, Andasibe. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
 

© 2015 – The photographs and information written is copyrighted by Joshua Ralph of MantellaMan Conservation.

 

Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) at Menalamba – Video

Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca), insitu at the Menalamba locality within the Torotorofotsy Wetlands Reserve, eastern Madagascar.

One of the more famous localities for the species, Menalamba (Meaning “Red Cloth” in Malagasy) is a popular eco-tourist spot for Herpetologists and even Bird Watchers.

Only a few days into my trip to Madagascar whilst doing work at the Amphibian Survival Assurance Center of Andasibe (ASACA), a part of Association Mitsinjo, I decided to try and find a species of Amphibian that started my entire lifes work and passion from a young age, the Golden Mantella.

Threats to Madagascar’s Amphibians – Basic Run Down.

 

Over the course of our planets history, thousands upon thousands of species of Fauna and Flora has both flourished and blossomed into marvelous species that can be found today, or they have disappeared off the face of earth, either naturally over the course of time or faced severe threats caused by none other than our very own species.
Homo sapiens throughout its existence, has caused the direct or indirect decline and eventual extinction of hundreds of species and in the past 500 years alone, the number of extinct species was estimated at approximately 869 (IUCN Red List – 2007).

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Bott’s Bright-eyed Frog (Boophis bottae) © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

Even today, there are still extinctions occurring and currently, there is an estimated figure of 47,978 species of Fauna and Flora listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, even though the everyday ordinary people in the world are aware of the countless projects to save the Clouded Leopard or the Giant Panda, people rarely know or have even heard of the species of Amphibian that are endemic to the island of Madagascar, or even realise the country itself is real or is home to the vast diversity of wildlife. So I think, it would be best to start this article by writing about the island of marvels itself.

Madagascar – In a Nutshell.

 

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Measuring a grand total of 592,800 square kilometres (228,900 sq miles), it is the fourth largest island on the planet.

Around 88 million years ago, when the prehistoric supercontinent known as Gondwana or Gondwanaland began to separate its land mass into pieces, a small chunk of land measuring 228,900 square miles started to move away from mainland India, this of course is Madagascar. In modern times, it is believed to be one of the largest and oldest islands on earth, and has had more than enough time to create both an amazing array of beautiful landscapes. Being split partly in two by a vast spine of mountains which runs the islands entire length, this has created a unique range of habitats with the Eastern and Northern parts being mainly Lush Rainforests and Swamps, to the Western and Southern lands being a mixture of arid woodland/forests and parched deserts.
With this drastic combination of extended island isolation and varied landscape, it as created some eccentric wildlife, 90% of which can be found no where else in the world, and of this number over 300 species of Amphibia (99.5% of which) are also solely endemic, however more are still awaiting appropriate description and even discovery out of all the species of Amphibia found on Madagascar, 99.5% of them are completely endemic. According to R. G. B. Perl and other researchers, in the article titled “DNA Bar-coding Madagascar’s Amphibian Fauna”, it is listed that just over 500 species are to be found within their country of origin, but it is believed that Madagascar actually hosts a greater amount than above said quantity, by approximately 200 species.

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Undescribed species of Palm Frog (Guibemantis sp. nov.) © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

However, the island is facing severe problems caused by Human Activity, with serious declines in its naturally occurring habitats. It is believed, since the first settling Humans arrived 1500 years ago, the habitats have declined by approximately 90% or more leaving little condensed pockets of National Parks scattered throughout the island and what is even more concerning, is that 40% of the above percentage has in fact occurred in the past 60 years alone. Because of this increased exposure to previously remote landscapes, there are new risks that the beautifully diverse wildlife faces. With risks from highly invasive species such as the Asian Common Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) and the deadly fungal infection, Chytridiomycosis (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), which has already caused the major decline in most the worlds Amphibian species, these unique species are in dire need.

Habitat-loss – Disappearing Refuges

Across most of the Eastern Coast of Madagascar, a technique of agriculture has been in

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Smoke, from Tavy (Slash and Burn) agricultural techniques in the central mountain region near the country’s capital. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

practice for many, many years causing a drastic decline in the Mantella natural habitats; this method is known as “Tavy” or more commonly as Slash-and-Burn Cultivation. This involves Trees and smaller brush and bushes to be cut down and left to dry out over the course of the winter period when precipitation is at an all time low, and eventually being burnt just before the first Rains arrive. This is mainly to allow the cultivation of Rice or Corn Crops within the regions felled and after only a few years of growing the crops, the people will move on and seek another area to cultivate whilst the previous area is left to fallow.

Due to the incredibly damage this method of Agriculture causes, such as Soil Erosion and destruction of a vast amount of Vegetation, this practice was in fact made illegal, in an attempt to slow the decline of Rainforest within these regions but is still practiced by local peoples to this day. This is mainly because of the lack of realisation and knowledge of the issues that are becoming more and more apparent making the education of locals, a primary aim for a majority of Conservation Organisations.

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In protected reserves, things like this are still a common site, where locals are still cutting down trees. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

However, this is not the only cause of Habitat destruction, simple mining and logging has definitely played a major role in the disappearance of major and vital biotopes which has severely fragmented certain Mantella populations. A prime example of such is the amazing but unusual locality variations of the Yellow Mantella (Mantella crocea) which exhibits a completely different colouration from its common name, that is in fact Green. This colouration an be found at Ambohitantely Reserve, the Eastern-central region of the island and also at the Zahamena National Park which is in a North-eastern direction from Ambohitantely, making it roughly 188km (116 miles) apart. This goes to show that the habitat loss is far from small, with locality populations being already drastically fragmented from each other.

Chytridiomycosis – The Amphib Killer.

Chytridiomycosis (or commonly known as Chytrid Fungus) is an emerging infectious disease to the class of Amphibians, caused by the aquatic fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). There are numerous Chytrid fungi members that can be found within the class of Chytridiomycetes. A lot of Chytrids are what is known as Saprophytes, fungi living on the dead decaying organic matter, arguably making one of their most important ecological functions, decomposition. However Bd, is very unique in comparison to other Chytrids.

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Team at Association Mitsinjo performing a biannual screening for Chytridiomycosis (Bd) on a common species, Betsileo’s Stream Frog (Mantidactylus betsileanus). © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

Having been first described in 1999, this new species was found to infect (with much success) Amphibian species. What makes this even more unusual, is the fact it is the only Chytrid to parasitically attack a vertebrate species and furthermore, specifically only Amphibians. It is often highly contagious and infection predominately occurs inside the cells of the outer skin layers that contain large amounts of keratin. As you may be aware, Keratin is what hair, feathers and claws are made of and helps by making the outside of the skin tough and more resistant to injury. The biggest trait that Amphibians predominately have is a Permeable skin, which is highly important for Gaseous exchange that can take place with some of the class it also helps with the absorption of important salts (electrolytes) like sodium and potassium through the skin. Chytridiomycosis, changes that entirely, forcing the skin to become thicker due to Microscopic changes that are known as “hyperplasia and hyperkeratosis”. Abnormal electrolyte levels as the result of Bd – damage the skin causing the heart to literally stop beating and obviously killing the infected animal (Voyles et al., 2009 and in other species that are entirely dependent on their skin to breathe such as Lungless Salamanders, it causes suffocation.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, not all Amphibians die from this fungal infection, with some species being “resistant” to the adverse effects and instead becoming carriers. These species in particular, such as the African Clawed Frog (Xenopus laevis), are of major concern to all Amphibians susceptible to the fungus Zoospores, due to being able to spread the infection further and cause further damage to other populations and of course cause extinction. In approximately only 30 years, Bd has caused the catastrophic decline or extinction (in many cases within a single year) of at least 200 species of frogs, even in pristine, remote habitats (Skerratt et al. 2007) some of them iconic such as the Australian Gastro-brooding Frogs (Rheobatrachus) and the neotropical Golden Toad (Incilius periglenes).

Conservation Efforts & Association Mitsinjo.

In Madagascar, some organisations are already well established, executing projects with already incredible results for the species in question. One of these organisations is Association Mitsinjo, a community-run conservation project which is situated in and around the small village of Andasibe, located within Eastern-central Madagascar. In is abundant is a vast amount of Anura, with approximately 100 species within a 30km radius of the town, 6 of these species are part of the incredibly beautiful Mantella genus.

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The Amphibian Survival Assurance Center of Andasibe (ASACA) at Association Mitsinjo, has already helped majorly in the field of Conservation, especially with their flagship species the Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca). © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

As part of the Mitsinjo Amphibian Conservation Programme and Andasibe National Park, a breeding center (the Amphibian Survival Assurance Center of Andasibe) was constructed between the month of November 2010 to March 2011 to allow the captive breeding of certain species to be controlled and the successes to be monitored properly and information recorded for both behaviour and husbandry research. The facility itself is incredibly impressive measuring 185 square meters containing within it, completely bio secure rooms for various captive frog species, live food culturing, Research and even quarantine and isolation facilities, to prevent any potential risks to the already captive populations at Mitsinjo.

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The facility is incredibly impressive, and their wild collected wards have managed to breed incredibly successfully in captivity. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

Conservation however, doesn’t necessarily have to involve breeding animals, it can also involve the simplest gesture, that is raising awareness and even in some case providing education. The Mitsinjo facility also includes an Educational Center which both foreign tourists and locals can visit to learn more about the work performed at the facility, the species found within the Andasibe Reserve and finally threats that affect all wildlife within the Nature Reserve.

Raising awareness for these small and fascinating frogs has even involved Mascots and Festivals dedicated to them, which tends to take place annually at a small village of Ampahitra. Last year, on the 25th of May the Mangabe Festival took place to raise awareness of the Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) at the protected site of Ranomena-Sahasarotra and has proved to be a successful attempt of trying to get the local communities around the reserve to engage and contribute towards both the habitats and the species that dwell in them. In this instance the Community organizations involved were rewarded for the efforts they carried out for the conservation of Mangabe’s forests from April 2012 to March 2013. This did include regular monitoring of the Golden Mantella breeding areas, the reporting illegal activities to the relevant authorities and even restoring areas degraded by slash-and-burn agriculture or gold mining.

Joshua S. Ralph