Harlequin Toads, among world’s rarest toads, bred in captivity for first time outside country of origin

The critically endangered variable harlequin toad (Atelopus varius). Photograph: Panama Wildlife Conservation Charity

Thanks to researchers at the Manchester Museum, harlequin toads – one of the rarest toads in the world – have been bred in captivity recently for the first time out of their country of origin, Panama in Central America.

Scientists at the University of Manchester visited the Santa Fe national park in Panama and recorded the conditions of the amphibians’ native habitat. Subsequently, they made use of the data collected to recreate the natural habitat of the toads: temperatures, lighting, water levels, and the water flow were adjusted to create an atmosphere that replicated the original conditions in which the toads thrive.

The critically endangered variable harlequin toad, Atelopus varius, breed only in turbulent streams filled with stones and boulders on which they lay their eggs and the scientists successfully recreated the exact conditions.

This effort is collaboration between Panama Wildlife Charity PWCC, Manchester Museum, and the Faculty of Medicine, Biology and Heath at The University of Manchester.

Curator of Herpetology at the museum, Andrew Gray explained: “These rare toads usually live deep in the rainforest and only go to the streams to breed under very specific conditions, so it was vital we were able to recreate them.

“Tropical algae are the only things these tadpoles eat off submerged rocks, because they have specialised, sucker-like mouthparts. So it was essential we were able to grow it in the aquarium.

“The adults can stay underwater for very long periods before breeding and were in the aquarium for over a month.

“We were very nervous about putting them in such deep water but they walked along the bottom just like they were walking on land; it was unbelievable.”

This successful breeding is a result of much hard work and study by the researchers for a period of three years since 6 of these yellow and black toads were brought in from Panama.

Also called the ‘clown frog,’ these toads were prolific once. However, their numbers reduced drastically due to the rise of the international pet trade in the 1990s and the spread of the deadly chytrid fungus, which is considered a huge threat to the toads.

Isn’t this initiative by the Manchester University commendable? Let us know what you think about it in the comments section below.

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