If you didnt know already, I have approximately 15 years experience keeping and breeding species of Amphibia, with a speciality within the genus of Mantella frogs from Madagascar. So, below you will find a care guide to how I keep and breed the said species.
Author: Joshua S. Ralph. Establishment/Organisation:MantellaMan Conservation.
Common name:Yellow Mantella (Eastern Golden Frog, Eastern Mantella) Scientific name:Mantella crocea – Pintak & Böhme, 1990 Family:Mantellidae Country of Origin: Madagascar. Localities: Bakozetra west of Parc National de Mantadia; Ifoha west of Parc National de Mantadia; a forest area east of Ambohimanarivo; and outside the Réserve Naturelle Intégrale de Zahamena.
Some of you that are now reading this blog entry may know me already, but from those of you that don’t or haven’t read my ‘About Me’ section on my website, then please allow me to introduce my self, my name is Joshua Ralph and I am a Batrachologist, Conservationist and Zoo Keeper. Now, some of you that aren’t really familar to animal terminology my be wondering what on earth a ‘Batrachologist’ is, well it is a person who specialises in the study of Amphibia (Frogs, Toads, Newts, Salamanders and Caecillians) within the specific field of zoology.
I have always loved working with and keeping Amphibian species, and it is my upmost passion and a path I have chosen to work within since before the age of seven years old. As generalised as I try to be, I am incredibly biased towards the species found upon a very biologically important and completely unique island, this of course is Madagascar. For those of you that aren’t entirely aware of the island or infact knew it was a real place, let me give you some information regarding it.
MADAGASCAR IN AN OVERFLOWING NUTSHELL.
Measuring a grand total of 592,800 square kilometres (or 228,900 sq miles for those of you that prefer to use this form of measurement), it is recorded as the fourth largest island on the planet and with this quantity of land along with total island isolation, the wildlife upon it have had all this time to evolve into the life you can find today. Most of which are entirely endemic, as a matter of fact over 90% of all life on Madagascar can only be found upon it. Regarding Amphibia, currently there is thought to be roughly 300 species accounted for that have been described, 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 Barcoding 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 to inhabit a greater amount than above said quantity, by approximately 200 species.
These amazing animals, are currently in trouble (as is the case for a majority of life upon the island) with risks from highly invasive species such as the Asian Common Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) and the deadly fungal infection, Chytridiomycosis (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) a fungal disease that has caused the extinction of many species across the planet already!!
CHYTRIDIOMYCOSIS – THE LETHAL 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 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 comparision to other Chytrids.
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 parasictically attack a vertebrate species and further more, specically 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 absorbtion 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 dependant 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).
I wish to raise money for my associate partner, the Amphibian Survival Alliance (Amphibians.org) and their projects to eliminate the threats that Madagascar’s amphibians are facing, by doing something unusual and difficult.
THE PILGRIM’S WAY (UK)- WINCHESTER TO CANTERBURY SPONSORED WALK. As a side hobby, on the weekends I re-enact 12th century Norman England with one of the UK’s premiere 12th century re-enactment societies, where I perform in unscripted and realistic combat displays. As a result, I own a lot of Norman period warriors attire, from real Maille (Chainmail as you may incorrectly know it), steel Helmets, heavy duty shields to even weaponry.
I wanted to do something a bit different to Skydiving or Bungee Jumping, and I finally decided that I will do a certain walk known as the Pilgrim’s Way, a 119+ mile pilgrimage route from Winchester (Hampshire, UK) to Canterbury (Kent, UK), a journey taking 12-14 days in total. However, I am not just doing a walk, oh no, its far more interesting than that! I plan to do this wearing the full attire of a 12th century Norman warrior, head to toe clad in armour and clothing authentic to the period. (I will weigh all my clothing and equipment I will take I know what you are more than likely saying, “This has nothing to do with animals.” and “What does this have to do with Amphibians?” And my answer to that is, well, it doesn’t have to have anything to do with my passion and the conservation efforts currently taking place in Madagascar. Also, my own reasons for doing this walk has NOTHING to do with relgion, it is just something that I thought would be both challenging and interesting.
Anyway, I shall be posting again shortly and creating a section on my website that will be dedicated to my Fundraising event so please do share this page for now on Facebook, Twitter etc so we can all make a difference and save the Amphibians of Madagascar whilst we still can…
Within this photograph blog entry, I will be in the Maromizaha Reserve Speciale for an entire day hike through this amazing rainforest valley.
This particular day proved spectacular for a majority of Fauna and Flora species, from Chameleons to Amphibia, especially when it came to finding a very young Short-horned Chameleon (Calumma brevicorne) with an amazing colouration, miniture orchid species and amazing views from vantage points.
The amount of species I saw this day were as follows:
Within this photograph blog entry, I will be in the Mitsinjo Forest Reserve (Analamazaotra Forest Station) and the Parc a Orchidees (Orchid Park) for another night hike (You do see so much at Night, my focus was upon nocturnal walks after a while, going on them every day).
This particular evening was fantastic for finding Chameleon species it seemed, especially when it came to finding young Short-horned Chameleon (Calumma brevicorne), Perinet Striped Chameleon (Calumma gastrotaenia) and Pygmy Leaf-nosed Chameleons (Calumma nasutum).
The amount of species I saw this night were as follows:
01/03/15 – 6.30am to 12.30pm Mitsinjo Breeding Facility, Andasibe – First Time at the Facility.
Being my first proper day in Madagascar, I was ecstatic and with all the excitement I was up ready to go at 6.30am hours earlier than was needed! Devin came to meet me for us to walk together on my first day, so I could get my bearings and know my way around the village and road towards the facility.
I remember walking through the town and noticing every little detail around me, from the smell to the sights that surrounded me but the one obvious thing was that I was the new guy in town. Let’s just say that I learnt the common Malagasy greeting incredibly quickly, I had to say it to everyone, out of politeness but also because I wanted to be friendly! On our way out of the edge of town, on the main road that takes you towards the National Parks, I noticed an extremely well preserved (Almost new-like) building with big capital letters on the sides of it stating “ANDASIBE”. I asked Devin exactly what the place was and why it appeared abandoned when it looked so new, well it turns out I actually knew this building, as a hotel from reading about Sir David Attenborough’s adventures in the 60’s. This was the Andasibe Train Station Hotel, and it had accommodated quite a few celebrities including Gerald Durrell, Prince Phillip and of course Sir David. Devin reminded me that the corner (directly where a restaurant now sits – where I eat most the time) as Sir David described, had rainforest right outside his window with Diadem Sifaka amongst the trees, a disturbing thought considering that the rainforest had disappeared so much since then.
After a 45 minute walk and a struggling uphill climb to the facility, which just proved how unfit I had became, we arrived at the Mitsinjo Breeding Facility, something I was eagerly waiting to see for well over a year. The first thing you notice about the building, once you open the gate, is the vast amount of logos from various organisations across the world that support the project, it truly was an impressive and fantastic sight to see, all except on of the logos (which I will explain later on).
We entered and already I was impressed with the protocols and procedures we had to go through before even entering the facility! Provided for the staff members, volunteers, PhD students and Researchers, are either Foam Crocs or Wellington Boots that are just for use within the facility main building. Your clothes must be clean before you are allowed to enter also, so no patches of mud (Luckily, I fully disinfected my clothes prior to leaving the UK using Virkon and Anigene) just incase a lethal pathogen maybe present upon your person. I was extremely excited and full of anticipation to actually just get in and view the facility and the legendary and highly important wild caught founders of the Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) species.
As I entered finally, straight away I was presented with a vast quantity of Fruit Fly (‘SiSi’ in Malagasy), Spring-tail, Tropical Woodlice, and Crickets cultures, incredibly overwhelming considering the amount I am normally used to. It was impressive, to say the very least!
Then we approached a set of heavy wooden doors, allowing access to the frog research and collection room, which is home to over 800 specimens, of 8 different species within the Conservation and Husbandry Research programmes. The obvious and main focus of the facility though is the famous and entirely beautiful Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) specimens, classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. However, what makes these particular specimens so important is not as well known of to the outside world, which goes back to one of the logos upon the wall of supporters. The wild caught founders were once found in the Ambatovy locality within the North-western part of the Torotorofotsy Wetland reserve, however a few years previous, it was discovered that this particular area had a vast amount of Nickel within it. So the Ambatovy Nickel Mining Company got permission to destroy the habitats as long as they contributed and removed the specimens of Mantella aurantiaca from the remaining four ponds and give them to Association Mitsinjo.
Just like that, the Ambatovy locality was wiped out and declared extinct in the wild (hopefully this may make you think about where the nickel in some of your purchases comes from), these beautiful and remarkable specimens were the last of their kind from the area they should be within.
Welcome back, in this photograph blog entry, I will be in the Mitsinjo Forest Reserve (Analamazaotra Forest Station) and the Parc a Orchidees (Orchid Park) for a night hike (which would have been the first time I entered the forest at night!
I came across a great amount for my first night of hiking in the rainforest and some of these species such as the Lowland Streaked Tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus) and the Short-horned Elephant Chameleon (Calumma brevicorne) I was simply dying to see after reading about them and working with them for so long!
The amount of species I saw this night were as follows (Not all I managed to photograph unfortunately, I am not that great at photography!):
Anyway, that’s your lot for tonight, if you are wondering why these entries are so short and are not containing very much information, it is because I will write about these animals properly, within more in-depth blog posts in the future.
Hope you enjoyed these photographs, please give me a like, recommendation or a share!
So, what interests people the most about my trips are not only my experiences, but also and most obviously… My photographs! Which, to be honest I entirely agree with because it’s great to simply see these species where they belong.
In this first photograph blog entry, I will be in the Mitsinjo Forest Reserve (Analamazaotra Forest Station) and the Parc a Orchidees (Orchid Park). I spent a lot of time here, which is a huge understatement thats for sure and I loved it! The majority of my time here (on hikes) was spent at night and I cannot deny that it was truly amazing, having been on well over 12 Night Hikes and I saw a vast quantity of fauna and flora it was unreal. Here is a list of how many species I saw within the time period I was there:
It is Located just across the main road (leading to Andasibe) from the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, which is situated near to the Analamazaotra river. It is composed of a little over 700 ha (2.7 miles) of rainforest and an abandoned timber plantation that is being currently restored to native forest by Association Mitsinjo (Malagasy for “To look ahead to provide for the future”). Known primarily as the best place in Madagascar to view the Indri, it is home to at least 12 other species of lemur such as the Goodman’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus lehilahytsara) and the Eastern Woolly Lemur (Avahi laniger) and is highly popular for Herpetologists for the high diversity of Reptilia, Amphibia and Arthropoda species with vast numbers readily observed (Depending on season).
It is also home to the Mitsinjo Amphibian Conservation Facility or Amphibian Survival Assurance Center of Andasibe (ASACA) and the brand new Education centre which will be open to Schools and to the public who wish to see the hard work going into conserving the rainforests in the surrounding area. Personally, as I helped at the facility during my time here, I found the facility to be outstanding and in all honesty was highly impressed by the work that Devin Edmonds and his team are doing to conserve many species of Amphibia, including the critically endangered Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) one of Madagascar’s most iconic species.
The current wards for the facility include a vast quanitity of not just amphibians (where over 500 specimens reside) but also the very food that is provided for them. All the dietary items are foudn from the forests themselves as starter colonies and are maintained by all the team who take turns in looking after it all. They are entirely self sufficient in this sense, which personally to me makes me wonder why this practice is not performed in Zoological collections in the same or similar manner.
Being a huge part of the Analamazoatra Forest Station and the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park (Maintained by both reserves) the Parc a Orchidees is a small part of the Mitsinjo Forest and is home to not only animals, but a wide range of species of Orchid (obviously) that are hugely diverse with some measuring as little as an inch long with flowers smaller still. The centre of this area is a small lake/pond which is filled with the sound of Mantidactylus, Aglyptodactylus and other species of Amphibia there, this is definitely even more so when it comes to the breeding season.
Anyway, I believe it’s time to show off some photographs from my Day Hikes into the Mitsinjo Forest and Orchid Park!
Anyway, This is the end of the first photo-blog entry for my site, please share and show as many people as you can the amazing nature that is to be found upo the Island of Marvels.
When I normally write about specific species, or even my diary entries for popular media articles, I normally have to stick to quite a strict word count limit. This, quite obviously results in the facts and information I provide about anything, not being provided in its fullest form which to me is simply not good enough!
So, I suppose it can be seen as a very good thing that I am writing within a blog now as well, so things are actually explained in greater and more referable detail for the public.
Now, as this is the first official blog entry for my website, I think something appropriate is required, to start from the beginning and what better place to start than with the island of marvels itself, one of the most important and highly biologically diverse countries on the planet. This of course is the Republic of Madagascar.
Approximately 120 million years ago (mya), the super continent known as Gondwana or Gondwanaland began to separate itself and start to form into the landmasses that exist today. With this, the Indian peninsula drifted away from its parent continent of Africa and 88 million years later, the island that would now be called Madagascar was finally born, with its split from India. Measuring a grand total of 592,800 square kilometres (or 228,900 sq miles for those of you that prefer to use this form of measurement), in is recorded as the fourth largest island on the
planet and with this quantity of land along with total island isolation, the wildlife upon it have had all this time to evolve into the life you can find today. Most of which are entirely endemic, as a matter of fact over 90% of all life on Madagascar can only be found upon it.
This completely unique and diverse menagerie is thanks to its geological past, with the landmass being situated in the direct centre of the Gondwana super continent. This of course at this time (approximately 140 mya) in prehistory, was about the time when life on earth was changing, with species of flora finally blossoming and blooming, primitive species of Mammalia and Aves (Birds) were emerging and co-existing with earths current longest surviving inhabitants, the Dinosaurs. Each of these classes of life were finding their niches and, when the mass extinction of the Dinosaurs occurred, the would-be island started to come into its own.
Life however, from the island, are in fact made up of a mixture of different lineages and not all as old as some of their Gondwana era originating livestock. Most are the descendants of hitch-hiking or migrating ancestors that arrived much later than this, either floating upon pieces of drift wood from the east African coast or perhaps even traversing great distances by swimming or flying to reach this destination, eventually marooning themselves or simply never leaving the rich and highly diverse habitats of the land.
Now, in the present day, it is listed as one of the most biologically diverse landmasses on the planet and a huge hotspot for biologists, zoologists and other nature-lovers. Fact is, if you love your Fauna and Flora, this is the place for you! (Myers et al. 2000)
It certainly is a lot to take in, even when it is written in its simplest form using the very basic of information. But of course, that isn’t where this blog entry ends, I think you diverse knowing about some of the life found upon it today.
In respects to Herpetology, the vast amount of Amphibia (99.5%), Arthropoda and Reptilia (92%) is outstanding and there are still more and more being discovered every year. Regarding Amphibia, currently there is thought to be roughly 300 species accounted for that have been described, however more are still awaiting appropriate description and even discovery. According to the R. G. B. Perl and other researchers, in the article titled “DNA Barcoding 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 to inhabit a greater amount than above said quantity, by approximately 200 species.
However, not all Amphibian life found there is endemic, 2 species, which are highly invasive have found their way onto Madagascan soil which include the following species:
• Asian Common Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus)
• Indus Valley Bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus)
Anyway, I think that is enough for this entry and I will conclude this two-part blog entry in the next few days. Take care and keep on loving nature!!
References an Further Reading: Perl, R.G.B., Nagy, Z.T., Sonet, G., Glaw, F., Wollenberg, K.C. & Vences, M. (2014) DNA barcoding Madagascar’s amphibian fauna. Glaw, F. & Vences, M. (2007) A Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar. Austin, D & Bradt, Hilary. (2014) Bradt Guide: Madagscar.
Raising awareness of conservation efforts and issues in Madagascar.