English Museum Creates World’s First Breeding Center for Endangered Harlequin Toads

Herpetologists at the Manchester Museum have successfully recreated the habitat in which harlequin tadpoles grow up following years of meticulous work.

Brain Gratewick, CC 2.0 license

The breeding program will ensure that at least one of these charismatic amphibians—the veragoa stubfoot toad, has a failsafe mechanism for its survival should something happen to it in its rainforest home of Central America.

The genus atelopus, colloquially known as the harlequin toads, almost all range from endangered to critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List, and are found in the rainforests of South and Central America.

The breeding program in Manchester is the only one of its kind, as the toads are rare and difficult to study. Herpetologists studied the conditions in which atelopus varius lay their eggs, which turned out to be turbulent streams filled with boulders and stones, of a certain temperature and moisture level in the air, and bathed in a certain spectrum of light that allows for the growth of a tropical algae which the tadpoles eat when they’re young.

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“The university is the only institution outside Panama to house these frogs. It’s a huge responsibility the team do not take lightly,” Andrew Gray, curator of herpetology at the Manchester Museum told the Guardian. “So we’re over the moon we’ve achieved the first captive breeding of this remarkable species. Our success heralds the next chapter for more innovative amphibian conservation work.”

The beautiful toad, with its shiny black skin and undulating golden bands, is just one of 68 species under the atelopus genus.

The field work started in 2018 in and around Santa Fe National Park, with collaboration with Panama Wildlife Conservation (PWC) which for its part is trying to save the veragoa stubfoot toad by hosting workshops for school kids in rural areas.

They believe that if the next generation understands the value inherent in the harlequin toads, the better chance they will work for its protection when they grow up and inherit the society.

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Manchester Museum is trying to raise money to continue the breeding project through various methods, including the Sponsor a Frog program, (even though it’s a toad) which has some pretty cool perks, including a personal behind-the-scenes tour of the museum’s vivarium where you can see and learn all about how the toads are kept, what they need to survive, and more.

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