Recent Achievements in Conservation Frog Breeding

By Sebastian Wolf

In early 2016 Mitsinjo’s frog team brought several new, locally occurring frog species into the breeding facility, some of which had never been kept in captivity before.

After acclimatization we were curious when or if they would start breeding. Natural reproduction period of most local frogs starts with the first rains in December or January, yet the 2016-2017 season has been different due to the fact that rain was largely missing until now. Fortunately, Mitsinjo’s captive frogs did not care about this dry “wet season” as they continued to overwhelm us with eggs. All species in our facility except of one at least produced eggs and tadpoles and the first young tadpoles have successfully metamorphosed into froglets by now (sometimes incredibly tiny creatures like the one in the picture, an already 3 week old Platypelis barbouri which is roughly 4 mm in size).

Platypelis barbouri was one of the new species Mitsinjo acclimated to captivity in 2016.

Platypelis barbouri was one of the new species Mitsinjo acclimated to captivity in 2016.

There are two crucial issues in frog breeding: finding out which climatic and microhabitat conditions trigger reproduction, and caring for – often plenty – of froglets that need large quantities of small prey insects. Small changes in cage design (what scientists and zookeepers call structural enrichment) finally did the trick with Mitsinjo’s frogs and immediately resulted in egg-laying.

Having the world’s first captive bred animals of a certain species is exciting, yet not the end oft he effort. Aside from successfully raising froglets to mature individuals once, the next step should always be to breed the captive frogs into the next generation(s). This already worked out with our flagship species, the Golden Mantella where some of our second generation captive animals will soon be released at ponds within their natural distribution range. Among the species we bred for the first time were some elusive microhylids, a conspicuous bright-eye treefrog and a mantellid frog that has no free-swimming tadpole stage but where eggs develop into froglets inside the egg capsules – we call this the low-budget frog as it does not need to be fed during its larval stage.

The golden mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) population at the breeding facility helps ensure the species survives in the wild.

The golden mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) population at the breeding facility helps ensure the species survives in the wild.

Looking at the recent efforts raises our hope that we are capable of breeding other endemic species as well, in case of any emergency event that needs immediate rescue or mitigation action. Aside from husbandry experiments that we conduct to steadily improve care and maintenance protocols, the next big thing will be running breeding trials with more stream-breeding frogs as they are an important part of the frog fauna in rainforests here and can be quite demanding in some aspects.

Raising healthy  frogs also requires vitamin and mineral supplements and proper food for tadpoles. Two companies thankfully provided free food and minerals for this breeding season (Aquarium Muenster and Keweloh Animal Health).

What do the tadpoles of little brown frogs eat?

We’re very pleased to be able to share some results from our amphibian captive breeding program with you this month. The full article can be found here.

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A juvenile Mantidactylus betsileanus frog from the study.

Published in the journal Alytes, our members worked together to investigate what is the best diet for the tadpoles of the Madagascar Betsileo Frog Mantidactylus betsileanus. We found a locally available shrimp and powdered spirulina aglae to work better for rearing the tadpoles than mustard greens.

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A tadpole in the study just about ready to complete metamorphosis.

Although the frog is not highly threatened, the information gained will help us develop future ex situ conservation programmes for species at risk that we have yet to learn how to keep in captivity. Perhaps just as importantly, the study helped our team of five amphibian technicians develop scientific expertise, and being able to answer biological questions using the scientific method allows us to make informed management decisions, not just about frogs but about the environment as a whole.

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Terrariums at the breeding facility that house the frogs.

Collecting Abundant Leeches to Find Rare Vertebrates

What secretive creatures live in Mitsinjo’s forests that we have not yet found?

World famous geneticists Tom Gilbert and Kristine Bohmann from the University of Copenhagen / Copenhagen Zoo came to Mitsinjo in 2012 and 2013 to do just this. It was the first site in Madagascar to test their innovative approach for producing evidence for the occurrence of very rare and elusive animals by using the DNA in the blood of leeches.

Ubiquitous in Malagasy rainforests, leeches are perfect ambush predators with a preference for vertebrate blood. Cashed blood can be retrieved from the leeches’ crops and tested for vertebrate DNA.

The DNA in the blood of leeches could help identify rare and hard-to-find wildlife in Madagascar's forests.

The DNA in the blood of leeches could help identify rare and hard-to-find wildlife in Madagascar’s forests.

Using leeches, Tom Gilbert and his colleagues were able to identify the DNA of very rare and elusive mammals in Vietnam such as Chinese Ferret-badger Melogale moschata and the Annamite Stripped Rabbit Nesolagus timminsi. These are difficult to detect and identify with either camera trapping or other conventional methods. National Geographic have recently joined highlighted their extraordinary work.

In 2012 and 2013, they tested if this methodology can be a useful tool for tracking down rare any elusive animals in the Malagasy rainforests as well. We especially hope that this method could shed light both on the assemblage of carnivores and the occurrence of critically endangered species such as the Greater Bamboo Lemur Prolemur simus or indeed other rare lemur species.

Does the Broad-striped Mongoose (Galidictis fasciata) exist in Andasibe? Leeches may help to answer this.

Does the Broad-striped Mongoose (Galidictis fasciata) exist in Andasibe? Leeches may help to answer this.

Mitsinjo has received accounts by villagers of Broad-striped Mongoose Galidictis fasciata in the forests around Andasibe, but no confirmed sightings have ever been recorded. Perhaps this exciting new research might bring an answer to the mystery.

Read more about the exciting research and time in Andasibe

Spiders and Ants

By Rainer Dolch

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Although both are arthropods, only the ants are insects, whereas spiders belong to their own class, the Arachnida. In collaboration with Mitsinjo, researchers of the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) have focused on both taxa in Madagascar.

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Brian Fisher and his team have discovered more than 900 species of ants from Madagascar

The daring Brian Fisher (http://www.calacademy.org/science/heroes/bfisher) of CAS and his team of the Madagascar Biodiversity Center have taken on the herculean task of inventorying Madagascar’s ant fauna. Their ground-(and back-)-breaking work in Madagascar is indeed one of the largest insect inventories ever endeavored.

So far, they have collected one million specimens at 200 sites, including Andasibe on various occasions. Over the years, the team has thus identified and named 900 ant species from Madagascar, which will help reveal evolutionary origins and radiations.

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The stunning diversity of Andasibe’s ants. Clockwise from top left: Cataulacus oberthueri, Cerapachys lividus, Technomyrmex madecassus, Strumigenys dicomas

Arachnologist Charles Griswold and his team, also of CAS, focus on spider phylogeny and especially on the peculiar goblin spiders (Oonopidae). Collecting these spiders as well as collecting ants requires sieving through enormous quantities of leaf litter, making research of these tiny animals a tiring enterprise.

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Daniela Andriamalala and Alma Saucedo of CAS searching for goblin spiders at Mitsinjo’s Anamalazaotra forest

Discover the amazing work of Brian Fisher’s team (https://sites.google.com/site/madabiodiversity/home)

Search thousands of ant specimens from Madagascar and pick your favourite

(http://www.antweb.org/madagascar.jsp)

Mammals of Andasibe Part 2 of 2 – Tenrecs, Bats, and Rodents

Tenrecs

Tenrecs are insectivores which occur both in Madagascar and Western and Central mainland Africa. There are around 35 species in Madagascar and at least six occur in Andasibe.

The Common Tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus) is, as its name suggests, fairly common and found throughout the island, including Andasibe. It is the largest tenrec, bigger than a common brown rat, and can be seen during the day or night though it is primarily nocturnal. Extraordinary for a mammal, they have been known to give birth to as many as 32 young!

The Lowland Streaked Tenrec is commonly encountered around Andasibe. They make a rattling sound with their spines to warn predators and often are heard before they are seen.

The Lowland Streaked Tenrec is commonly encountered around Andasibe. They make a rattling sound with their spines to warn predators and often are heard before they are seen.

The Lowland Streaked Tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus) is perhaps the most striking, with elegant black and white stripes down its spined back. Often they can be heard before they are seen, clicking their spines in a raspy rattle to warn you of their presence. They form burrows, often near small streams, and here they give birth to around half a dozen or more young.

The Greater Hedgehog Tenrec (Setifer setosus) is the other spined species in Andasibe. Unlike the Lowland Streaked Tenrec, it is rather drab in appearance. When threatened they may curl into a ball.

Shrew Tenrecs are not often encountered and when they are may be misidentified as rodents rather than tenrecs.

Shrew Tenrecs are not often encountered and when they are may be misidentified as rodents rather than tenrecs.

The genus Microgale is commonly called Shrew Tenrecs. At first appearance they may be confused with the likely exotic true shrews (Suncus spp.) which also are found in Madagascar. Of the 35 or so species of tenrecs, more than 20 are Shrew Tenrecs, and in Andasibe we have at least one species, likely more, but they are not often encountered and when they are often misidentified.

The Mole-like Rice Tenrec lives underground and is rarely observed.

The Mole-like Rice Tenrec lives underground and is rarely observed.

The final two species of tenrec in Andasibe have only rarely been encountered. The Aquatic Tenrec (Limnogale mergulus) has webbed feet and inhabits rivers, where they may be mistaken for rats, while the Mole-like Rice Tenrec (Oryzorictes hova) lives a fossorial existence mainly underground.

Rodents

Madagascar has an interesting diversity of rats and mice. Perhaps the best known is the Giant Jumping Rat (Hypogeomys antimena) which is restricted to a tiny remaining piece of habitat in the west, but the area around Andasibe also supports some interesting less known rodents.

There are at least three species of Eliurus in Andasibe. Commonly known as Tuft-tailed Rats, they are nocturnal and can be seen climbing branches and vines in the forest on night hikes.

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Not all rats are ugly. Madagascar’s rodent diversity is impressive and a number of species can be observed in Mitsinjo’s forests at night.  Here is an example of a Tuft-tailed Rat. “Eliurus sp.” by Frank.Vassen – http://www.flickr.com/photos/42244964@N03/4023100110/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Voalavoanala (Gymnuromys roberti) is terrestrial and found in forests at night, with a white belly and gray dorsal side, while the two Brachytarsomys species in Andasibe look much like voles and live underground.

If you wish to view the unique rodents of Andasibe, it is important to search at night when they are active and can be seen in the forest.

Bats

Madagascar supports at least two dozen endemic species of bats. Unfortunately, the bats of Andasibe do not receive much attention from visitors and tend to be overlooked compared to the other fauna, even though as many as 21 species have been recorded in the area.

Madagascar Flying Foxes (Pteropus rufus) can be seen in the thousands north of Moramanga roosting in fruit trees, while perhaps the best bat experience of Andasibe can be had in the village.

The attic of the post office is home to a large bat roost and is conveniently located next to a small shop that sells beverages. Watching the bats come out at sunset while sitting on a bench outside with a cold Three Horses Beer in hand is an experience not to be missed, whether you like bats or not!

Tenrecs, Rodents, and Bats of Andasibe

Afrotheria:
Tenrec ecaudatus Common Tailless Tenrec
Setifer setosus Greater Hedgehog Tenrec
Hemicentetes semispinosus Lowland Streaked Tenrec
Oryzorictes hova Mole-like Rice Tenrec
Microgale spp. Shrew Tenrecs
Limnogale mergulus Aquatic Tenrec
Rodentia:
Eliurus majori Major’s Tufted-tailed Rat
Eliurus tanala Tanala Tufted-tailed Rat
Eliurus webbi Webb’s Tufted-tailed Rat
Eliurus petteri? Petter’s Tufted-tailed Rat
Brachytarsomys albicauda  White-tailed Rat
Brachyuromys betsileoensis Betsileo Short-tailed Rat
Brachyuromys ramirohitra  Gregarious Short-tailed Rat
Gymnuromys roberti Voalavoanala
Monticolomys koopmani? Koopman’s Mountain Mouse
Nesomys rufus  Island Mouse
Voalavo antsahabensis? Eastern Voalavo
Chiroptera:
Pteropus rufus Flying Fox
Eidolon dupreanum Madagascar Fruit Bat
Emballonura atrata Peters’s Sheath-Tailed Bat
Taphozous mauritianus Mauritian Tomb Bat
Myzopoda aurita Madagascar Sucker-footed Bat
Chaerephon atsinanana Madagascan Free-tailed Bat
Chaerephon jobimena Bat
Mops leucostigma Bat
Mops midas Midas Free-tailed Bat
Mormopterus jugularis Peter’s Wrinkle-lipped Bat
Otomops madagascariensis Madagascar Free-tailed Bat
Tadarida fulminans Large Free-tailed Bat
Miniopterus egeri Eger’s Long-fingered Bat
Miniopterus gleni Glen’s Long-fingered Bat
Miniopterus majori Major’s long-fingered Bat
Miniopterus manavi? Manavi Long-fingered Bat
Miniopterus sororculus? Sorocula Long-fingered bat
Myotis goudoti Malagasy Mouse-eared Bat
Neoromicia matroka? Malagasy Serotine
Neoromicia robertsi? Bat
Scotophilus robustus Robust Yellow Bat

Mammals of Andasibe Part 1 – Lemurs and Carnivores

Lemurs

This is the realm of the lemurs, both diurnal and nocturnal. While the enigmatic Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus) is the rarest of the Andasibe region’s 14 species, the eerie song of the Indri (Indri indri) is the epitaph of Andasibe. Indri are easily found with the help of local guides in the morning within Analamazaotra Forest Station, an experience not to be missed while visiting.

Next to the Indri, perhaps the next two most charismatic lemur species of Andasibe are best searched for in the forests north of the village, at Torotorofotsy and Mantadia National Park. Here it is possible — with some luck — to observe the Diademed Sifaka (Propithecus diadema) and Black and White Ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegata), the latter more often heard than seen.

Diademed Sifaka are best viewed in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.

Diademed Sifaka are best viewed in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.

A tiny local endemic only described in 2005 – Goodman’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus lehilahytsara) — as well as Dwarf Lemurs (Cheirogaleus spp.), the Eastern Woolly Lemur (Avahi laniger) and the Greater Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur mustelinus) are all common nocturnal encounters.

Less often stumbled upon at night is the Hairy-eared Dwarf Lemur (Allocebus trichotis). Andasibe is also home to the seldom seen and bizarre Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis).

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The infrequently observed nocturnal Hairy-eared Dwarf Lemur (Allocebus trichotis).

In addition to the Greater Bamboo Lemur, the more widespread Lesser Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur griseus) also inhabits the forests around Andasibe. As their name suggests, the majority of their diet consists of bamboo, though they also will feed on leaves, fruit and flowers.

Lesser Bamboo Lemur

Lesser Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur griseus)

If there is only one lemur that will be seen while in Andasibe, it is the Common Brown Lemur (Eulemur fulvus), which can even be found scrounging around the garbage of the National Park entrance in search of leftover banana peels or mango rinds.

Carnivores

Next to humans, the main predator of the above lemurs is the Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), the largest carnivore in Madagascar. Though at first glance they may look like a large muscular feline, they are in fact related to mongoose, as are all carnivores in Madagascar.

The Fossa, Madagascar's largest carnivore, is found in Andasibe but rarely seen. Photo in captivity by Ran Kirlian

The Fossa, Madagascar’s largest carnivore, is found in Andasibe but rarely seen. Photo (taken in captivity) by Ran Kirlian.

In Andasibe, the Fossa seems to be rare but occasionally a spotting is reported during their mating season between October and December when males leave their solo lifestyle and together congregate around a mate.

Not to be confused with the Fossa, though its scientific name does just that, the Fanaloka or Malagasy Civet (Fossa fossana) is the size of a large housecat and patterned in elegant black bands and spots. They are nocturnal and very rarely found.

Fanaloka (Fossa fossana). Photo by Joaquín Romero Redondo.

Fanaloka (Fossa fossana). Photo by Joaquín Romero Redondo.

Similar in size or slightly larger than the Malagasy Civet is the Falanouc (Eupleres goudotii), which have an awkwardly broad tail and angular pointed snout.

The most commonly observed carnivore may be the Ring-tail Mongoose (Galidia elegans), which of the four carnivores of Andasibe is the only one active during the day. They are small and weasel-like in size and shape, with an elegant banded tail and russet body.

The Ring-tailed Mongoose is active during the day and occasionally encountered. Photo by Jeff Gibbs.

The Ring-tailed Mongoose is active during the day and occasionally encountered. Photo by Jeff Gibbs.

There are unconfirmed reports that Malagasy Striped Mongoose (Galidictis striata) and the exotic Small Indian Civet (Viverricula indica) may also be found in Andasibe.

Lemurs and Carnivores of Andasibe

Primates:
Microcebus lehilahytsara Goodman’s Mouse Lemur
Cheirogaleus major Greater Dwarf Lemur
Cheirogaleus crossleyi Furry-eared Dwarf Lemur
Allocebus trichotis Hairy-eared Dwarf Lemur
Lepilemur mustelinus Greater Sportive Lemur
Prolemur simus Greater Bamboo Lemur
Hapalemur griseus Lesser Bamboo Lemur
Eulemur fulvus Common Brown Lemur
Eulemur rubriventer Red-bellied Lemur
Varecia variegata Black and White Ruffed Lemur
Propithecus diadema Diademed Sifaka
Avahi laniger Eastern Woolly Lemur
Indri indri Indri
Daubentonia madagascariensis Aye-aye
Carnivora:
Eupleres goudotii Falanouc – Mongoose-like
Cryptoprocta ferox Fossa
Galidia elegans Ring-tail Mongoose
Fossa fossana Fanaloka – Malagasy Civet
Galidictis striata? Malagasy Striped Mongoose
Viverricula indica? Small Indian Civet

Amphibian Chytrid Fungus in Madagascar

For the first time, the amphibian chytrid fungus (Bd) has been found in wild Madagascar amphibian population. This recently published research paper summarizes the results of a tremendous collaborative effort in chytrid research in Madagascar. Association Mitsinjo is proud to have been a part of this study. Mitsinjo members were present during the first discovery of chytrid in Madagascar in the Massif du Makay and subsequently led the regular sampling of amphibians for chytrid in the Andasibe region.

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As alarming as the detection of chytrid in Madagascar is, no mass mortality of amphibians appears to have been associated with it so far.

In a best case scenario this might indicate a previously undetected endemic type of Bd and/or hint at a natural resistance of Malagasy amphibians against chytrid.

In a worst case scenario, this might only be the early stages of a devastating epidemic with the potential to wipe out many of Madagascar’s unique frogs.

Stay tuned…

Links and more information:

http://phys.org/…/2015-02-amphibian-chytrid-fungus-madagasc…
http://www.amphibians.org/ne…/bd-madagascar-franco-andreone/
http://www.amphibians.org/news/bd-in-madagascar-reid-harris/
http://www.amphibians.org/news/bd-madagascar-molly-bletz/
http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31645122