Tag Archives: Mantella

Wild Madagascar – Adventure to Nosy Mangabe Reserve Speciale – Part One 25/09/16 – 28/09/16

The journey was a long winded one, a full twenty-four hours was lost via shuttle bus (which took nearly 6 hours) and then had to wait till 2am for the Melissa Express boat, a gut wrenching and stomach turning twelve hours of constant rocking and broken sleep that is accompanied by the sound of nearly sixty people being sick into plastic buckets that are provided for this specific reason (Incredibly kind of them – That isn’t sarcasm, trust me).  I do very well on any method of transportation, I can sleep anywhere even in the rainforest on a bed of leaf litter covered in leeches, but the sound of continuous vomiting was a bit much so I got out of my seat and went outside on deck.
The crew were startled at first by me venturing onto the deck but I sat with them, shared some Salto Crackers and had a few laughs with my broken Malagasy, then fell asleep against a very warm metal seal that led to the engine. Eventually, they woke me up once the first light appeared on the horizon an started pointing out the main sights to see, including Mananara – Nord and eventually the islands (Nosy) that lay in the middle of Antongili Bay, this included the beautiful little charming Nosy Mangabe. This island, I have wanted to visit since I was no more than a young boy, a place to tick off my bucket list.

Nosy Managbe, not photographed on the best of days but that really doesn’t matter! It was like approaching Jurassic Park… © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

Unfortunately for us though, we went straight past it, we would have to go to the Madagascar National Parcs office that is situated in Maroantsetra, a city where ships and boats port to relieve themselves of their passengers and stock items.  Eventually, we retrieved the luggage and then made our way via Taxi-Brousse to the MNP office, which I heard was made entirely out of Madagascan Rosewood (Dalbergia maritima), an endangered species of tree  with a deep red coloured appearance which is incredibly expensive due to the rareness of its’ existence, mainly believe it or not attributed to habitat-loss. How that works having the MNP office for Masoala National Parc made out of this, I don’t know, I tried not to think about it too much… But anyway, it was a mission to actually get there, with the Taxi-Brousse driver, who was local and been doing it years, having no idea where the office was and took us to several different hotels before finally understanding the same words I had repeated twelve times. Frustrating, to say the very least. But we got there and that was the main thing and I can totally confirm that the office was made out of Rosewood and  unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to photograph it. But once over the initial awe I had for the building, I walked into the office and began to speak to the head of Eco-Tourism for the area and told her we wanted to be on Nosy Mangabe by Lunch time and she, to my surprise was very happy with this and I was able to arrange all the particulars. I had to state my personal reasons for being on the island and that I was doing data collection on the endemic population of Climbing Mantella (Mantella laevigata) and she stated what I was allowed to do and not to do which included the collection of samples and so on.
That wasn’t a problem, as that is not what I was after and I showed her the equipment I would be using to measure UV, Temperature and Humidity at the specific biotopes for the species which she claimed were numerous.  After an hour of discussion, decision and friendly chatter the boat was secured, a guide called Donna Franklin was assigned to us and we were well underway with the adventure.

To say the very least, I was buzzing and eager to just get moving and after an hour of buying supplies for the four days and three nights we would be upon Nosy Mangabe, we finally boarded the speed boat and left Maroantsetra. It began to rain and it was slightly overcast, now to most people that would be a nightmare for them if they were to go to an island with pristine beaches to bathe upon and it was raining but, not for me.  To me that weather is perfect conditions not just for me but for the animals I wish to see. I am not made for the sun unfortunately and am quite terrified by it, this is mainly due to the incident when I was young which involved the sun and a bed for 2 weeks suffering with severe sunburn and sunstroke. But that’s enough of my childhood dramas, finally we got into Antongili bay and saw the island and the only way to describe how I was feeling would be to say, it was like approaching Jurassic Park and the entire time that famous theme music was just playing in my head as we got closer and closer, until we finally got to the beach which every visitor lands.

Leaving the main river of Maroantsetra, the biggest town in Antongili Bay. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Most people seemed to be avoiding leaving the safety of the river and coming back from the sea… © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
In the distance, the island! I had the biggest smile on my face at this point. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
As we got closer, I noticed that the reserve was everything people told me it was and more. A island covered in untouched primary rainforest which goes all the way up to the cliff edges. Beautiful. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
We finally arrived at the beach that welcomes it’s visitors too it, where everyone lands. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
A beautiful beach, this particular area has been used in such documentaries as Last Chance to See with Steven Fry. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

I took that giant step off the boat onto the yellow sand covered shoreline, and immediately felt at home and soon after establishing our tent and getting our things together, I ran off like some excited child high on the atmosphere and prospect of not knowing what we were going to find. I stood in the middle of the main camp site, and heard a very familiar sound which I grew accustomed to after breeding them for quite some time in captivity. This was the sound of the resident species of Mantella, I walked to a Bamboo grove which was situated very closely to the Kitchens and immediately got onto my hands and knees, rummaging around, sitting still every so often and paying attention to every sound or movement I saw and heard.

Tonga Soa eto Nosy Mangabe. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Thankfully and gratefully, they provided translated copies of the writing explaining the rules and regulations of the MNP. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
This would be home for 3 nights, I got very comfortable I can’t deny it. I believe this was the shelter that was provided for Steven Fry. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.


Now, I am not going to lie, I normally have to go on some crazy trips and spend hours trying to find the species of interest to me but this time it was different. Just sat there, were approximately seven different Climbing Mantella (Mantella laevigata) specimens, minding their own business and unaware of my presence in their home. Well, I can be a very emotional man to be brutally honest depending on the situations and I can say without a care in the world to you all that I cried, I had a good old sob whilst on my own seeing something I had wanted to see for more than half my lifetime. It was a perfect moment for me, I didn’t know what to do first, take photographs of the area and the specimens, film footage on my video camera or start collecting the data I required so, I did what was appropriate and started streaming the waterworks.

Preferred habitat for the Arboreal Mantella (Mantella laevigata) population upon Nosy Mangabe. Everytime you walk through these areas, you will always find specimens in plentiful amounts. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
© 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
© 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Arboreal or Climbing Mantella (Mantella laevigata) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

Once that was out of my system, I was able to go about and do what I do, crawling around on my stomach remembering my favourite phrase “Mora Mora” or in English “Slowly Slowly” , which was drilled into me on my previous trip and to have patience. “Take your time” I whispered to myself , “Don’t mess this up” and eventually I was little more and a foot and a half away from the biggest individual, a female who was surrounded by quite a few males which were calling to their little heart’s content.

Female Arboreal Mantella (Mantella laevigata) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Female Arboreal Mantella (Mantella laevigata) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Male and female specimens together. The male was in the process of calling out. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

So I snapped away with my Nikon D3100, Macro lens attached and flashing away but after an hour of being still and watching, something else caught my attention in the form of a miniature swift movement. Crickets are everywhere, all over the floor you see flying and gliding movements of them constantly but this was significantly different and I moved closer and looked closer and saw the smallest frog specimen I had ever seen in person, sat on a leaf calling away situated quite close to what looked like a blob of spit between leaves.

This was the little guy making all the noise, so much noise from a single Thumbnail Frog (Stumpffia sp.) specimen! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
13.5mm in size, from my measurements. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
© 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
The ventral side of the specimen was surprisingly beautiful. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
The potential foam nest from the same species, he was calling very close to it. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

It was little more than 13.5mm in size, possibly 14mm and absolutely perfect in every way imaginable and from the fact it was calling, it was an adult male or perhaps a young male. I picked it up after taking a few photographs of it on the leaf and took a perspective shot of the individual perched upon my thumb then one of its dorsal (Bird’ Eye View), lateral (Side View) and ventral (Underside View) and I must tell you now, encouraging Thanatosis (causing the specimen to play dead) on something this small was no mean feat, but I certainly achieved it. This was a member of one of the smallest genera of Anura on the planet, the Stumpffia genus and after much investigation, I concluded with a few other friends that this is more likely a new species or perhaps one of the two that are currently in the progress of being described. It was incredibly exciting, I had always wanted to see a member of this legendary genus and right there in front of me,  and it was.

From only 3ft away, it is little more than a speck! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

After little more than a few minutes, there was another species of miniature frog, a completely different species jumping around, it was heaven and I wanted to spend all my time there but I knew that it was time for lunch and we had walks planned further into the forest. Before I left the grove though, I noticed a Male Climbing Mantella (Mantella laevigata) on the edge of a Bamboo cane which was filled with water, once he noticed me he leapt from the bamboo and made his way into hiding. I looked into the hollow and it was too dark and I didn’t have my head-torch about my person, so I took a few photographs and told myself I would check later to see whether this bamboo hollow was important to the individual male guarding it.

Another potentially new species of Thumbnail Frog (Stumpffia sp.) found within the bamboo grove. From only 3ft away, it is little more than a speck! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
This measured slightly bigger at 15mm is size. From only 3ft away, it is little more than a speck! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

In matter of fact, when I did check this photograph on my laptop, I zoomed in further and saw a tadpole, almost ready to hatch out from its egg that was perfectly positioned next to the water filling the bamboo cane. Seeing this behaviour in the wild, well, it was outstanding. The area however, was swarming with other species of anurans, all living sympatrically without a single thought on the other species.

The first photograph took, thinking “meh, lets just take the picture anyway as an example.” From only 3ft away, it is little more than a speck! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
I took this slightly closer photograph… From only 3ft away, it is little more than a speck! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
This was the resulting image of the zoomed in shot. From only 3ft away, it is little more than a speck! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Mantella weren’t the only guys that liked the Bamboo. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
White Forest Frog (Gephyromantis (Duboimantis) luteus) with it’s cryptic leaf-like markings. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
I don’t really know what species this is but was interestingly marke almost like a Theloderma. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
© 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.????????????

After a hearty lunch, Donna took us along the forest path towards the Fisherman’s huts, near the southern part of the island. One of the guardians of the island, having spent already a month on his own upon Nosy Mangabe, went on ahead of us to do his daily checks and also to scout anything out for us, which included one of the largest species of the Leaf-tailed Gecko (Gekkonidae: Uroplatus) genus, the Frilled Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus). Our guide, who shared a huge passion for both Amphibia and Reptilia decided to create a competition between the three of us, who could find the specimen first. Whilst he had the upper hand, I still tried my hardest to spot this animal, having experienced pure frustration to the point of hair pulling in the Perinet region trying to find the local populace of Mossy Leaf-tiled Geckos (Uroplatus sikorae) and Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus) but to be brutally honest, it wasn’t even remotely as difficult. In fact, annoyingly there it was right on the pathway upon a tree perfectly camouflaged (Well, we were looking for it…) against the moss and lichen covered tree bark.

The view from the beach at the smaller of the two summits. This is the summit which has the Lighthouse upon it that is no longer used. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
The edge of the pathway one the trail to the fisherman’s hut. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
The path ahead… © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

It was huge, the entire length of the specimen was longer than my hand and  this wasn’t easy to capture within image form. Sat there impressively, he didn’t seem remotely interested or bothered by us, which brought me to the simple conclusion regarding the rarity of the population of Uroplatus in the Andasibe region, there simply are far too many tourists visiting the Mitsinjo, VOI. M.M.A and Andasibe-Mantadia National Parcs causing the specimens to venture deeper into the more secure parts of the Analamazoatra, to non-ventured grounds where they can have peace and quiet.
It was really a bit of common sense, as we were practically all alone upon Nosy Mangabe and prices for visiting the landmark were already high enough, meaning less people venturing into these lush, pristine primary rainforests.

Frilled Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) upon its tree, absolutely beautiful and brilliantly blended in. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
As you can see, this was a particularly large specimen! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Typical red lined eyes of the Frilled Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Frilled Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
This one still had its original tail. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Obligatory picture, always a must! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
© 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
© 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

Back to my story though, we eventually moved on further along the pathway to the Fisherman’s Huts and I must admit, the island was more than impressive showing already an abundance of different species of Anura, Reptiles and Arthropods from the continuous call of the Mantella populations to the floor being covered in various species including Spotted Digging Frogs (Plethodontohyla notosticta), Thumbnail Frogs (Stumpffia sp.) and even different colourations of  White Forest Frogs (Gephyromantis (Duboimantis) luteus) and White-marked Forest Frogs (Gephyromantis (Duboimantis) leucomaculatus) “Nosy Mangabe”.

Spotted Digging Frog (Plethodontohyla notosticta) young specimen, there was millions of the all over the forest floor. You had to go out of your way to not trend on them! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Spotted Digging Frog (Plethodontohyla notosticta). © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Ventral side of the Spotted Digging Frog (Plethodontohyla notosticta). © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
There were ome amazing places to stop, some breath taking. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
White-marked Forest Frog (Gephyromantis (Duboimantis) leucomaculatus) “Nosy Mangabe”. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
The ventral side of the White-marked Forest Frog (Gephyromantis (Duboimantis) leucomaculatus) “Nosy Mangabe”. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
A young White Forest Frog (Gephyromantis (Duboimantis) luteus) specimen. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

Eventually, we turned back to camp after 3 hours of walking and our guide asked us if we would like to do a guided night walk with the guardians. Now I know for a fact that night walks are actually prohibited in National Parks however, on an island with no one else upon it and the opportunity being given to me on a plate… I could hardly say no, could I!? Of course, like everything in Madagascar I had to pay a fee to the guardians who acted as though this was acceptable, demanding over 100,000Ar per person and a fee for each Guide attending. I politely said no, explaining that I wasn’t stupid and that night hikes weren’t allowed in the first place and offered 50,000Ar and that would be all I would offer. Obviously they accepted this, realising they wouldn’t be able to make me budge on a perfectly reasonable price, so we enjoyed a hearty meal of rice, vegetables and the freshest fish I have ever had caught only 15 minutes before it was prepared.

This stunning view, marked the end of the afternoons walk. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Dwarf Lemon Orchid (Aerangis citrata) along the walk back, my favourite species of orchid. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved
Dinner, or will be! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Felt really bad to eat something so beautiful, but it would have been a waste. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

We weren’t alone at the dinner table though, a mated pair of  White-fronted Brown Lemurs (Eulemur albifrons) were sat amongst the branches of the closet trees watching eyes with the classic wide eyes of an inquisitive Lemur. We gave them no food, however whilst we were distracted, they had made their own way into our kitchen and decided to eat our pot of rice that was still on the embers of the fire. Classy.

White-fronted Brown Lemur (Eulemur albifrons) waiting for us to look away… © 2016 – Joshua Ralph
White-fronted Brown Lemur (Eulemur albifrons) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
They both managed to find a way into the kitchen!! © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

After a little nap in the tent, we got ready for our night walk and found Donna eagerly waiting for us with a huge smile on his face, the guardians however didn’t even bother looking at us or joining us which showed they were not happy with the fee they were offered, we left without them and got on with our adventure. It wasn’t long though until we came across not just one, but several of the nights herpetological finds! A weirdly marked Nosy Mangabe Giant Stream Frog (Mantidactylus (Mantidactylus) sp. aff. grandidieri) perched itself at the bottom of a slow moving stream with a slight cascade, it stood there as though it was proud of itself allowing me to get reasonably close until it decided enough was enough and leapt up to the top of the miniature cascade and crawled under a boulder which was a common flight display for the species. However, it wasn’t the only animal here, in fact there were animals everywhere acting as if they were completely oblivious to our existence from Hermit Crabs fighting over their individual dug out holes in the ground to Fishing Spiders attempting to capture a freshwater shrimp passing by its hunting grounds.

Nosy Mangabe Giant Stream Frog (Mantidactylus (Mantidactylus) sp. aff. grandidieri). © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Hermit Crab within its hole. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Frilled Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) specimen we saw earlier that day. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved
Frilled Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) specimen © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved

It wasn’t long however, with the dying of last light of the setting sun, till we found a Frilled Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) getting ready to start it’s nocturnal hunt. Waking itself up and cleaning its’ eyes by licking them, the first one of the night we encountered was none other than our friend  we found in the day time and now it was dark, he was sporting an entirely new colouration which we simply couldn’t pick up hours earlier. Not far from it however, was a Boulenger’s Forest Frog (Gephyromantis (Gephyromantis) boulengeri) with a fantastic colouration that was rather unlike what I had normally came across in the forests of the Analamazoatra, this was a male specimen measuring roughly 26mm from my measurements, calling out from his platform.

Spider fishing for freshwater shrimp in a stream. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Boulenger’s Forest Frog (Gephyromantis (Gephyromantis) boulengeri) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Right Reserved.
The Ventral side of the Boulenger’s Forest Frog (Gephyromantis (Gephyromantis) boulengeri) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Right Reserved.

We ventured on, walking slowly along the pathway, looking just about everywhere for any sign of movement or for a tiniest bit of eye-shine from our head torches. Wasn’t long until a spectacularly coloured and marked Frilled Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) appeared out of nowhere on the trees next to us, attempting to run away from us before we even noticed he was there. It was definitely a male as well, mainly due to the fact his Hemipenis (only one, hence why it wasn’t pleural) was out, when we finally caught up with him! That night, I remember we came across not just two Uroplatus specimens but roughly five, which to me is a stupid amount… I am used to seeing probably that number in the course of a few weeks, so this was like a herpetological paradise.

Frilled Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) on the hunt. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
A Hemipenis of the Frilled Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Frilled Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

As we neared the end of our walk, I had found several more species of anuran, including another weirdly coloured Nosy Mangabe Giant Stream Frog (Mantidactylus (Mantidactylus) sp. aff. grandidieri) and the most vibrant specimens of  Cryptic Forest Frog (Gephyromantis (Vatomantis) sp. aff. silvanus).

Potentially a young Nosy Mangabe Giant Stream Frog (Mantidactylus (Mantidactylus) sp. aff. grandidieri) specimen. © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Spotted Digging Frog (Plethodontohyla notosticta) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Cryptic Forest Frog (Gephyromantis (Vatomantis) silvanus) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
The Dorsal view of the Cryptic Forest Frog (Gephyromantis (Vatomantis) silvanus) © 2016 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

We finished up the nocturnal hike and went back to the camping area, however as long as the past day had been, I just wanted to get back out there and look around. Eventually, I fell asleep ready for the next day ahead.

To be continued…


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

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

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


  • 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.


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.

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.


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.



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.

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),



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.

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



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.

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.

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.

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


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.



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.

Malagasy Nature Photographs – Menalamba locality, Torotorofotsy Wetlands Reserve.

Hi Everyone,

Within this photograph blog entry, I will be in the Torotorofotsy Wetlands Reserve, located north of the torn of Andasibe.

Being one of my first days in Madagascar and with the breeding season of a few species I so desperately wanted to see nearly over, Devin Edmonds (Director of the ASACA facility in Andasibe) and myself made an attempted to find a species that pretty much kicked started our passion at such a young age for us both.  This was of course Madagascar’s most iconic species of Amphibian, the critically endangered Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca).

A day I will remember for the rest of my lifetime!

A Primary School at the Menalambe village in the Torotorofotsy Wetlands Reserve, was very happy and surprised to see the regions (and country’s) most iconic Amphibian species painted on the school sign. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
A view we could see from the far side of the village, showing the expansive nature of the Torotorofotsy Wetlands, or what it would have been like before paddy after paddy of Rice fields were planted. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
After leaving the car, we made our way along the old rail tracks which were used to transport Lumber from the edges of the reserve. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Ahead of us was Rennie, a local guide for the Torotorofotsy region. Fantastic guide and I got on with him incredibly well regardless of the language barrier! © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Eventually, after approxiamtely 45 minutes of walking, we got to the first sign telling us that we reached the actual Menalamba locality. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Right next to that sign, well as you can see, was a wooden bridge that was made. Regardless of appearances, it was very sturdy… If your sensse of balance is okay! © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Almost instantly, we went straight to hunting for the critically endangered species, I made sure not to get my hopes up however as I knew it was the end of the breeding season and it was right about the time the animals left their breeding grounds. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
About an hour into our search, we still had no luck, but we moved “Mora Mora” or translated from Malagasy “Slowly Slowly” making sure we turned over every leaf! © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Indiana Jones, eat your heart out (It wasnt intentional to look like him!). © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
We did come across a breeding pond for the Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) specimens in the area, and within it we found… © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
… Some Tadpoles!! A little game of “Spot the Tadpoles” is in order, can you see them? © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
We had almost given up and after two and a half hours, me and Devin had decided that instead of carrying at this particular area that we should move on to the next one… Until, we heard shouting from Rennie and Fano telling us to come quickly as they have found a specimen! © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
And that was it, I had finally seen the species of Amphibian that started my entire career and passion from such a young age. It was so amazing, that I almost cried to myself and was utterly speechless. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
I avoided all movement, for the next 20 minutes, as I was so worried about hurting the specimen. However, it turns out that this little male wasn’t alone… There was a female with him too! © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Gorgeous colouration on both the male (pictured) and female, a deep reddish orange colour that is quite typical of the wild specimens of the species. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Another photograph of the male Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) specimen. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) male specimen. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
A wild pairing of Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) at the ‘Menalamba’ locality within the Torotorofotsy Wetland Reserve. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) male specimen. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
The Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) pair again. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) pair, Male (Top Left) and Female (Bottom Right). © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) female specimen. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) female specimen. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
She decided to launch herself at my camera and got slightly dirty, hence the bits of leaf litter covering her. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) female covered in dirt, however I quite like the more natural appearance. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca). © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) female specimen. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
I was entirely captivated by them, that I just watched them and observed them for the entire time. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Devin Edmonds (Left), Joshua Ralph (Middle) and Rennie (Right). © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
We decided to move on to the next locality, as you can see, Devin was lucky enough to get mobile signal for his snapchats! © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
So, we decided to move on and try our luck at another locality, one that was particularly well known to experts to be covered in Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) during breeding season. (I will not be listing the name of the locality) © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
We firstly took the pathways, whilst Devin got out his GPS and tried to find his book marked locations for the breeding ponds. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
It wasn’t long however, until we found evidence that the local teams that were meant to be protecting the site, hadn’t been doing their jobs with signs of felling that was recently performed! © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
Not only that, but we also found a destroyed Golden Mantella breeding pond, that had been mined for Gold. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
We walked along a stream, but heard no mating calls from the males and potentially there were no specimens left and had left to hide away until the next breeding season. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.
We did find this gorgeous Arachnida specimen in the pathway, amazing morphology but like most Arthropoda it is yet to be described. © 2015 – Joshua Ralph – All Rights Reserved.

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