Frog-killing fungus, good news at last

This video from Spain is about the Mallorcan midwife toad.


Lizzie Wade


7:02 pm

A Frog-Killing Fungus Finally Meets Its Match on the Island of Mallorca

This fall, like every fall for the past six years, Jaime Bosch found himself dangling off a cliff on the island of Mallorca with a backpack full of tadpoles. The Spanish ecologist was rappelling down to the bottom of a steep canyon, preparing to return his precious cargo to the ponds where they had hatched.

Bosch, who works at Spain’s National Museum of Natural History, had evacuated the tadpoles weeks earlier, hoping to save them from certain death at the hands of the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, better known as Bd. Since researchers discovered it in the late 1990s, the fungus has decimated amphibian populations around the world, leading to the collapse or extinction of at least 200 species. Bosch was hoping against hope that he could prevent the Mallorcan midwife toad (Alytes muletensis) from being next.

Bd is an insidious fungus, growing all over an infected amphibian’s skin—the organ through which the creatures breath and drink. Infection often leads to fatal organ failure. Normally, once Bd makes its way into an ecosystem, scientists can’t do much besides tally up the carnage.

Mallorca and its native toads have some unique characteristics that made Bosch think he might be able to save them. First of all, it’s a very simple system, ecologically speaking: one island, with one amphibian species. Plus, the island only has a few ponds, making it possible to capture every last tadpole that hatches in them. Finally, the ponds tend to dry out every summer and get refilled by autumn rains, which should flush out any Bd-infected water.

Not that it was easy. Hence the rappelling down into canyons to reach the ponds, loading the tadpoles into plastic water bottles, and making an arduous hike out. Once Bosch got the tadpoles back to his lab, he bathed them for seven days in an anti-fungal solution designed to kill any Bd spores growing on their skin. At first, he thought that would be enough to eliminate the fungus from the island. Optimistic, he loaded the tadpoles into a helicopter that would get them as close to the ponds as it could, before transferring them to his backpack for another rappelling trip down the canyons.

But when he and his team went back the next year, they found that the tadpoles were infected again. That meant the local environment was hiding a reservoir of Bd somewhere—most likely the adult toads that were too reclusive to catch.

Bosch decided that if his team couldn’t treat every infected animal, they would have to disinfect the whole place. So this time, after they evacuated the tadpoles to the lab for their anti-fungal baths, they drained the breeding ponds and scrubbed the underlying rock with a chemical call Virkon-S, renowned for its Bd killing ability.

“That’s what works. That’s when the fungus didn’t come back,” Bosch says. In an article published today in Biology Letters, he reports that his team successfully eliminated Bd from four out of five infected ponds on Mallorca. They repeated the protocol on the fifth pond this year, and Bosch hopes the whole island will be officially free of the fungus by the next tadpole season.

“It’s a monumental achievement,” says Brian Gratwicke, a biologist who leads the amphibian efforts at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, DC. “It provides huge hope for the whole community.”

But it’s not exactly transferable. Flying tadpoles around by helicopter? Rappelling down inaccessible canyons? Covering every rock in a pond with toxic chemicals? If this is what it takes to stop Bd on one island, in one simple ecosystem, how can scientists even hope to eradicate it in the rest of the world?

Well…they can’t. Karen Lips, a biologist at the University of Maryland who helped discover Bd, doubts any of these methods would be effective in the rainforest of Panama, where she works. “Sterilizing one pond is not going to do it. You’d have to sterilize the entire jungle.” Still, she says, such techniques could be useful for protecting other islands and isolated ecosystems from Bd. “Perhaps that’s what we’re going to be left with: lots of islands. Either islands in oceans, or mountaintop islands, or islands in a sea of concrete. Maybe that’s the way we’re going to be able to protect our amphibians in the future,” Lips says.

Bosch agrees that his protocol “is not a solution for eliminating Bd from everywhere in the world.” But, he says, “we can’t just stand still and do nothing,” watching amphibian after amphibian go extinct. “Every now and again [the amphibian science] community needs a win. And this is one of those wins,” Gratwicke says. Bosch won this battle. And sometimes, in a war, that’s the best you can hope for.

Amphibian, reptile films at Rotterdam festival

This video says about itself:

Adapting Anolis

Short wildlife film documenting the adaptations of Cuba’s Anolis lizards that have allowed them to dominate Cuba‘s jungles.

At the Wildlife Film Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, there are not only films about birds and mammals, but also the film Adapting Anolis.

The festival organisers write about it:

Cuba’s rainforests are famous for housing the Anolis lizard. There are over 60 different species of Anolis lizard living in Cuba ranging in size from minute to mighty. These lizards have managed to dominate Cuba’s jungle and Adapting Anolis explores the adaptions that have allowed these lizards to become so successful.

There is also the film Pyrenees Island, about a newly discovered amphibian species.

The festival organisers write about it:

In 1990, the discovery of a mysterious frog motivated a Spanish ecologist to begin research on this little amphibian. After three years of extensive studies, Jordi Serra Cobo finally described this new species and named it Rana pyrenaica. Starting in the footsteps of the rare Pyrenean frog, the film invites us into the chaotic world of high mountain torrents.

In this turbulent environment, strange rare beings live alongside the frog. All of them have a complex evolutionary history. All of them are now threatened with extinction. The story tells us not only about the magic of the Pyrenean frog the naturalist discovered, but it also has a lot to teach us about ourselves and the uncertain future that awaits us.

And there is also this Dutch film about frogs at the festival.

Tree frog video

This video shows a tree frog in the Netherlands.

Nolda van Asieldonk made the video.

Reptiles and amphibians in the botanical garden

Eastern collared lizard, 7 September 2015

This photo shows an eastern collared lizard, a species originally from North America. We saw this individual on 7 September 2015, at the big AquaHortus exhibition of aquariums and terrariums. Again, all photos in this blog post are macro lens photos.

There were quite some frogs in the terrariums in the botanical garden entrance building, including Dendrobates tinctorius, and Lepidobatrachus laevis.

Eastern collared lizard, on 7 September 2015

One story higher was a terrarium with three eastern collared lizards.

And a terrarium with a central bearded dragon from Australia.

Indian star tortoise, 7 September 2015

We continued to a hothouse. Near the entrance, a terrarium with this young Indian star tortoise.

Nearby, some relatives: Hermann’s tortoise; European pond turtle; red-bellied short-necked turtle; and leopard tortoise.

Also in this hothouse, colourful amphibians. Including oriental fire-bellied toad.

And spot-legged poison frog. Not far from a panther chameleon terrarium.

Mission golden-eyed tree frog, 7 September 2015

Also, a terrarium with some Mission golden-eyed tree frogs.

Dutch Orchid Society terrarium

The Dutch Orchid Society had a terrarium of its own at the exhibition.

Poison dart frog, 7 September 2015

It contained not only various orchid species, but also a few poison dart frogs, like this one.

Stay tuned, as there will be another blog post, about botanical garden plants.

New frog species discovery in Bolivia

This video says about itself:

Expedition in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park Discovers New Frog Species | WCS

20 August 2015

WCS scientists on a multi-year expedition through Bolivia‘s Madidi National Park have likely discovered a new species of robber frog. They were tipped off by the distinctive orange coloring on its inner thighs and will be working over the next few months to confirm the discovery.

From Wildlife Extra:

A new species of big-headed or robber frog (Oreobates sp. nov.) from the Craugastoridae family has been discovered in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park.

The frog was found during the first leg of an 18-month long expedition called Identidad Madidi to chronicle the staggering wildlife living in what is believed to be the world’s most biodiverse park.

James Aparicio, a professional herpetologists from the Bolivian Faunal Collection, said, “Robber frogs are small to medium-sized frogs distributed in the Andes and Amazon region and to date there are 23 known species. As soon as we saw these frogs’ distinctive orange inner thighs, it aroused our suspicions about a possible new species, especially because this habitat has never really been studied in detail before Identidad Madidi.”

Identidad Madidi is a multi-institutional effort to describe still unknown species and to showcase the wonders of Bolivia’s extraordinary natural heritage at home and abroad. The expedition officially began on June 5th, 2015 and will eventually visit 14 sites lasting for 18 months as a team of Bolivian scientists works to expand existing knowledge on Madidi’s birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish along an altitudinal pathway descending more than 5,000 meters (more than 16,000 feet) from the mountains of the high Andes into the tropical Amazonian forests and grasslands of northern Bolivia.

Participating institutions include the Ministry of the Environment and Water, the Bolivian National Park Service, the Vice Ministry of Science and Technology, Madidi National Park, the Bolivian Biodiversity Network, WCS, the Institute of Ecology, Bolivian National Herbarium, Bolivian Faunal Collection and Armonia with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and WCS.

Teresa Chávez, Director of the Bolivian Biodiversity and Protected Areas Directorate expressed her satisfaction with the scientific results of the Identidad Madidi expedition: “The description of a new species of robber frog (Oreobates) for science is important news for the country as it confirms the extraordinary biodiversity of Madidi National Park and demonstrates the importance of scientific research in protected areas.”

Frog discoveries, new species, poison

This video is called BBC: Poison Dart FrogsWild Caribbean.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Ribbiting news: frogs’ poison spines revealed and new species discovered

In two separate breakthroughs, a new species of tree frog has been discovered, while two species of Amazonian frog have been revealed to be venomous

Many of world’s frogs may be at risk of extinction, but something new always hops up in the amphibian world. In two separate journals in one afternoon, scientists have identified a brand new tree frog species high in the Peruvian cloud forest, while on the other side of the Andes, a biologist in the Amazon basin discovered the hard way the secret of survival of two familiar species: they are venomous.

The deadly duo – formally named Corythomantis greeningi and Aparasphenodon brunoi – are not just poisonous in the way made notorious by the poison dart frogs known as Dendrobatidae, which are the ones that indigenous Amerindians traditionally used to poison their blow darts. They are poisonous in the sense that they can inject a toxin from a sharp spine on their heads.

The poison is more deadly than the secretions of a pit viper, and one of the discoverers, Carlos Jared of the Instituto Butantan in Sao Paulo found out the hard way. While collecting C. greeningi he got a spine in his hand: intense, radiating pain followed for the next five hours.

The experience immediately explained why no hungry hunters are known to dine off either kind of frog. “This action would be even more effective on the mouth lining of an attacking predator,” said Dr Jared. As he and his research colleague Edmund Brodie of Utah State University tell the story in the journal Current Biology, it may have been a lucky strike. They calculate that one gram of toxin from the other, even more poisonous species, would be enough to kill 300,000 mice, or about 80 humans.

“It is unlikely that a frog of this species produces this much toxin, and only very small amounts would be transferred by the spines into a wound,” said Brodie. “Regardless, we have been unwilling to test this by allowing a frog to jab us with its spines.”

Meanwhile, 2350 metres high in the forests of the Peruvian Andes, biologists found a tiny fleshbelly frog hardly bigger than a beetle and hitherto unknown to science that had been leaping around in the leaf litter under their feet. The frog has been named Noblella madreselva (which means “mother jungle” in Spanish), in the journal Zookeys by its discoverers Allessandro Catenazzi of Southern Illinois University and Dr Vanessa Uscapi.

It announced itself by its striking colouration: a wide white mark on a black background, stretching from chest to belly, with a brown splash on its head that looks like a dark facial mask. The frog may have escaped notice until now, but it may survive only in that location, and in parts of the forest not yet logged. So it could be at high risk of hopping away to extinction. Half of all the world’s toads, frogs, newts and salamanders are in decline, and one third are at risk of extinction.

“It is therefore imperative to document the highly endemic amphibian faunas of the wet montane Andean forests as a first step towards designing a network of natural reserves that maximises protection of amphibian diversity,” the authors say.

See also here.

Common frog video

This is a video about a common frog in July 2015 in a ditch in Wildervank, the Netherlands.

Suzanne de Vries (13 years old) made this video.