‘Oophaga pumilio’ … the Egg Eater!

Today’s post is by Laura from the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum. We are not experts, but we are people with a passionate interest in the museum and its objects. We each bring our own insight into Manchester Museum and its collections.

For more about the animals in the Vivarium, please visit the Curator’s blogFrog Blog Manchester.

Easter Edition: ‘Oophaga pumilio’ … the Egg Eater!

While you’re tucking in to a mountain of Easter eggs – and probably feeling a little sick, if you’re anything like me – I thought it would be nice to think about another little creature that’s partial to an egg or two.

One of the stars at Manchester Museum has to be the strawberry poison-dart frog. Championed by Attenborough himself, this courageous little amphibian goes to extreme lengths to raise its young.

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Available from https://bpsfuelforthought.wordpress.com/ 2011/11/21/strawberry-poison-dart-frogs/

Found in the humid lowland forests of Central America, this little frog has suffered from drastic population decline due to climate change and habitat loss, and is unfortunately on the endangered list. The poison-dart frogs get their name because indigenous people traditionally used their poison to tip the darts they used against their enemies.

Their bright colouration acts as a warning to deter predators from being tempted to take a bite out of them! Although commonly referred to as the strawberry poison-dart frog, this species actually varies greatly in colour depending on where it comes from. Colours can range from red to green, yellow and even blue!

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Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strawberry_poison-dart_frog#/media/File:OophagaPumilio_colon_lagruta_to_source_dendrobase.hu.jpg

This one looks like it needs a little longer in the strawberry patch …

Unlike many other species of amphibian, they are active during the day. The males are highly territorial and are very vocal, calling throughout the day to protect their plot and attract a mate. Once the female has chosen a male she produces a small clutch of 4-6 eggs among leaf debris on the forest floor, which are then fertilized by the male.

At this point, most amphibians would just leave their offspring to it, but when compared to your average garden pond frog, strawberry poison-dart frogs are dedicated and hard-working parents. While the tadpoles develop, the male guards the eggs until they are ready to hatch. It is important that the eggs stay moist during this time and he does this by sucking water into his cloaca, then periodically emptying it on the clutch. What’s a cloaca, you ask? Well, whereas creatures like humans have separate orifices for urine, faeces and copulating, frogs … just combine this into one. So think about where that water’s been. How resourceful!

He’s a great dad, but this is a team effort.

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Available from: http://1000naturalwonders.blogspot .co.uk/2012/02/9-dedicated-frog-parents.html

After about 10 days they hatch, and the female then transports the tadpoles on her back to the water-filled centre of the bromeliad plant, and here’s where the egg-eating bit comes in. She deposits each individual tadpole in its own bromeliad nursery and lays an infertile egg for it to eat. She does this over and over again during the course of their development, which takes about 2 weeks. During this time it is estimated that this tiny frog (which is no bigger than a thumb nail) walks up to half a mile. The tadpoles feed on the infertile ‘food’ eggs and will eat nothing else, which is how they get their Latin name, Oophaga pumilio meaning ‘little egg eater’. It has been suggested they are raised in this way because they would eat each other if they were raised together!

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Available from: http://www.gailshumway.com/gallery/index.php?level=album&id=3

During last summer, here at Manchester Museum, we had lots of baby froglets developing in the bromeliad plants and they were all a deep red colour showing that they were healthy. So next time you’re visiting The Vivarium, pay close attention to the centre of the bromeliad plant because you may see a tiny egg eating froglet.

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Laura Bennett

For more about the animals in the Vivarium, please visit the Curator’s blogFrog Blog Manchester.

Read more about endangered animals by the Visitor Team;
The War of the Snails, Round Three: Down But Not Out
The War of the Snails, Round Two: The Heavyweight
The War of the Snails, Round One: The Home Favourite

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