Biologist Spotlight: Breeding Red-Eyed Tree Frogs at Adventure Aquarium

We couldn’t end April without calling out everyone’s favorite colorful species: FROGS! Go behind-the-scenes with Biologist Lauren Hauber for insight into the breeding of red-eyed tree frogs, on exhibit in Zone C.

Content Provided by: Lauren Hauber, Biologist – Fish & Invertebrates

April is significant, and not just because it’s National Frog Month. It also marks the start of breeding season for these tiny amphibians. At Adventure Aquarium, Biologist Lauren Hauber of our Fish and Invertebrates Department is responsible for overseeing the collection and their breeding process. Lauren was caring for the frogs when a pair of red-eyed tree frogs paired up and produced eggs in June 2014.

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Frog ParentsIn the wild, males will start calling after a heavy rainstorm to attract females. When an interested female comes along, the male will climb on top of her until she finds a suitable place to deposit her eggs. Typically, the female looks for a smooth surface that hangs over a permanent water source, normally a leaf. But here at Adventure Aquarium the window was chosen as the best place. Our pair of red-eyed tree frogs laid about 100 eggs on the window overnight. The eggs being on the window even allowed guests to watch the embryos develop and see the tadpoles move around inside the eggs!

Egg casesAfter the female lays her eggs, the male fertilizes them. And believe it or not, this is as far as parenting goes for them; the babies are now on their own. IMG_1272

The change from embryo to tadpole normally takes 5 to 9 days. So a day or two before the eggs were supposed to hatch, Lauren put a small floating basket in the water below the eggs to catch the tadpoles. She then moved the tadpoles to their own enclosure behind the scenes to complete their development once all the tadpoles were hatched.

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The first tadpoles started morphing into little tiny ¼ inch frogs just after about two months. Once the froglets had all four legs, Lauren moved them to a new enclosure where they could continue to grow. At this point, they still have their tail when they leave the water, and it takes a good few days for them to absorb it. When the froglets are finally ready to hunt, they eat teeny tiny insects. At Adventure Aquarium, they are fed a diet of flightless fruit flies and pinhead crickets.

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The froglets will continue to grow very slowly, and are now about 1 inch long. Visitors will be able to soon see them on exhibit, but in the meantime, see adult red-eyed tree frogs in the Ribbit Room in KidZone.

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Working with poison dart frogs, from a biologist’s perspective

By: Lauren Hauber

Biologist Lauren Hauber holds up a yellow and black dart.  We occasionally have to handle our frogs for health examinations.

Biologist Lauren Hauber holds up a yellow and black poison dart frog. We occasionally have to handle our frogs for health examinations.

Hello, my name is Lauren Hauber and I’m the biologist in charge of taking care of all the poison dart frogs here at the Adventure Aquarium.  I have been working with the frogs here for about 2 years, but have been fascinated with amphibians my entire life.  When I was younger, I remember going out in the back yard of my house and trying to catch frogs, tadpoles, and anything else I could catch with my butterfly net.  It’s funny how that’s not much different from what I now do for a living.

When people think of dart frogs, they think of tiny little, brightly colored frogs that you can’t touch without getting sick or dying.  This prompts the question, so how do people like me handle them without getting poisoned?  While wild animals certainly are very toxic and can cause you great harm just by touching them, animals in zoos and aquariums are not.  The reason being that dart frogs acquire their poison from the insects they eat in the wild.  This is why even a wild dart frog will eventually lose its potency if kept in zoos and aquariums long enough.  Knowing that most people don’t know this, it’s funny to me when people gasp when they see me cleaning the windows or feeding in the dart frog exhibit.

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Blue poison dart frog

Most of the frogs on display at the Adventure Aquarium use camouflage to prevent themselves from being seen by predators.  This is not the case with dart frogs.  All day long you will see them out in the open hopping along without a care in the world.  Unlike most frogs, they want to be seen by predators.  Their bright colors let predators know that they are without a doubt, not good to eat.  Being such bold animals, many of them will look up in expectation of food when they see me open the lid.  Some will even hop up the back wall as fast as they can to be the first ones in line.  I always love it when they do that.  Every once and a while they ride on the yellow-footed tortoise’s back and I can’t help but smile when I see that.

A dart frog hangs out with our yellow footed tortoise

A dart frog hangs out with our yellow-footed tortoise

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing these animals produce more dart frogs.  Unlike most other frog species, poison dart frogs take care of their young, the extent of which depends on the species.  Our green and black poison frogs are the most prolific breeders at the aquarium.  I will usually come in one morning to find a small mass of 3 to 6 eggs laid in a Petri dish with the dad sitting not too far away, watching over them.  Since the eggs aren’t laid in water, the male will periodically “pee” on the eggs to keep them moist and to prevent fungus from growing on them.  It’s really cool to be able to watch the embryos slowly develop into tadpoles, a process that takes about two weeks.

Checking on the tadpoles!

Checking on the tadpoles!

When the eggs hatch, Dad will allow the tadpoles to wriggle up onto his back and he will transport them to a “suitable” water source.  In the wild this would be a water-filled tree hole, a bromeliad, or a puddle of stagnant water on the forest floor.  Parental care stops at this point, so it’s up to me to care for the tadpoles.  I will collect all the tadpoles from Mom and Dad’s enclosure and I will put them in a plastic cup full of water.  I feed them special tadpole pellets every day and in about two months they morph into the cutest little froglets.  If you thought Mom and Dad were small, think again.  The juvenile frogs are about one quarter the size of the adults.  You may wonder what such small animals eat, and the answer is fruit flies and very small crickets.  This is convenient since that’s what the parents eat too.  They just love them!  The froglets grow fast on this diet and in about one year they are fully grown adults.

Dart frog tadpoles

Dart frog tadpoles up close

All poison dart frogs are native to the rainforests of Central and South America, which as we all know is under threat by deforestation.  If we want future generations to be able to see and appreciate these beautiful animals, we need to stop destroying their homes.  When you visit Adventure Aquarium during Frogs: Nature’s Messenger, you can learn how to help frogs in the wild!

Adventure Aquarium’s Philadelphia Flower Show frog exhibit showcases the best of art in nature

How fitting for a year in which the Philadelphia Flower Show’s theme of “ARTiculture – where art meets horticulture” that the show would include a gallery of the consummate artist: frogs! With their intricate, glass-like exteriors and rhythmic movements and sounds, frogs literally paint nature with color.

Adventure Aquarium's Fish & Invertebrates team, who tirelessly built the frog display with Lincoln High School

Adventure Aquarium’s Fish & Invertebrates team, who tirelessly built the frog display with Northeast Philadelphia’s Abraham Lincoln High School

Biologists started working on the exhibits at the beginning of February, including acquiring South American plants and designing the displays.

Biologists started working on the exhibits at the beginning of February, including acquiring South American plants and designing the displays.

Adventure Aquarium’s very own Frogs: Nature’s Messenger exhibit served as the inspiration for northeast Philadelphia’s Abraham Lincoln High School’s Flower Show display, which visitors can check out now through March 9 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Hand in hand with our husbandry team, students at Lincoln High School spent months learning about the critical role frogs play in predicting the health of our environment.

The exhibits are in place! Each exhibit features a different species from South America, including poison darts, milk and tree frogs.

 Each exhibit features a different species from South America, including poison darts, milk and tree frogs.

With that as inspiration, the students themed their exhibit to offer Flower Show attendees a unique peek into a rainforest research hut where guests can learn how important frogs are to the environment and how detrimental changes in land, air and water threaten frog populations.

There are a total of five amphibian exhibits incorporated into Lincoln’s spectacular display, each tank filled with beautiful live plants from South America, as well as exotic frog species including Amazon milk frogs, red-eyed tree frogs, several colorful poison dart frogs, a waxy monkey frog and more!

Visit our Frogs at the Philadelphia Flower Show through March 9 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. Guests can bring their Philadelphia Flower Show ticket stub and receive $4 off a general admission ticket at Adventure Aquarium (redeem at our Box Office) through March 31, 2014.

The Amazon Milk frog, one of the species visitors to the Flower Show can see up close.

The Amazon Milk frog, one of the species visitors to the Flower Show can see up close.

Frog of the Week: Cane Toad

Meet our awesome new Frog of the Week: the Cane toad! Commonly known as the Giant or Marine toad, this amphibian is one of the largest toads in North America, capable of reaching average lengths of 7 inches!

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Cane Toads can be found naturally from the Amazon River Basin of South America to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, and they are generally found near water but can also be found around houses and in gardens. Ambush hunters, they mostly feed at night- especially when it’s humid outside, and hide by day under rocks, burrows and other objects.

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Cool Facts:

  • The call of a Cane toad is a low-pitched rattling trill that lasts about 4-6 seconds. A larger Cane Toad will have a noticeably deeper and more resonant sound than a smaller one. Almost like an old one-cylinder engine puttering in the distance!
  • Cane toads were originally introduced in warmer regions of the world to control sugar cane beetles. They adapted so well they are now considered pests, threatening the survival of native species.
  • These toads secrete a poison from their large paratoid glands behind their ears – a poison so potent that it can kill pets that attempt to eat them!

Meet Adventure Aquarium’s Cane Toads in KidZone (Zone C) during Frogs: Nature’s Messenger, now through April 27.

FROG OF THE WEEK: Amazon Milk Frog

Meet today’s “Frog of the Week,” the beautiful Amazon Milk frog!

Amazon Milk Frog

Trachycephalus resinifictrix can be identified by its light gray coloring and brown and black banding, with juveniles showing a stronger contrast in colors vs. adults, whose colors fade as they mature.

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Like most frogs, male Milk frogs are smaller than females. In addition, Milk Frogs have developed sticky pads on their toes that aid them in climbing on leaves and trees.

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The milk frog gets its name from the “milky” white fluid it secretes for protection when stressed or threatened. This medium-sized frog (between 2-4 inches) is most active at night and is known for its loud vocalizations.

Meet our Amazon Milk frogs up close in KidZone during Frogs: Nature’s Messenger, now through April 27.

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Respect the Frog Blog Series: How Frogs Predict the Weather

By: Nikki Grandinetti, Curator of Fish & Invertebrates

Part I of our “Respect the Frog” Blog Series

By the time February comes around, most of us that live in the northeast are ready for winter to make an exit, and are wondering if that famous groundhog will see his shadow and determine if we are in for another six weeks of winter. I on the other hand anxiously wait for the sounds of the night to once again fill my ears.

Calls from the tiny spring peeper can be heard up to a mile away

Calls from the tiny spring peeper can be heard up to a mile away

The first frog that signifies that spring has definitely returned is that of the spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer). This tiny frog – not more than an inch and half long – are rarely seen, but a chorus of these frogs calling can be heard from up to a mile away. Growing up I could tell how the season progressed from early spring to the late days of summer and early fall by the species of frogs that could be heard calling at night time.

After the spring peeper comes, the sound of the leopard frogs (Lithobates pipiens) and green frogs (Lithobates clamitans). Then the on warm summer nights I would listen for the low croaking of one of the largest North American frogs, the American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus).

Listen for the calls of American bullfrogs during warm summer nights.

Listen for the calls of American bullfrogs during warm summer nights.

The species that let me know that fall was coming and that the time to return to school was fast approaching, was the gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor).

You know fall is coming when you hear the sounds of the Gray tree frog

You know fall is coming when you hear the sounds of the Gray tree frog

Frogs also let us know when rain is on the horizon because their calls become louder, and more frogs are singing their hearts out. This is due to the frantic need for the males to attract a female so they can mate and lay their eggs in the nearest body of water. The life cycle of all frogs and amphibians is inherently tied to a source of freshwater. Thus, more rain increases the amount of vernal pools and temporary ponds for their tadpoles to develop.

The new frog exhibit at Adventure Aquarium not only showcases local species that you can find in your backyard, like the gray tree frog and the American bullfrog, but also introduce you to frogs from three other continents. From South America, meet the famous poison dart frogs who lay their eggs in the water that collects in bromeliad plants. From Africa, meet the two pound African bullfrog who anxiously awaits the rainy season to come out and lay 100’s of eggs in temporary ponds. The African bullfrog (Pyxicephalus adspersus) will also stay with their tadpoles to make sure they can always reach water, using their bodies to dig channels in the mud to allow the water to flow to their developing young. From Asia, meet the Vietnamese Mossy frog (Theloderma corticale) who displays an elaborate camouflage that transforms this species into a clump of moss on a tree.

So here is to hoping that famous groundhog does not see his shadow, and that the sounds of spring peepers will soon fill our backyard with their glorious chirping!

Frog of the Week: African Bullfrog

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This week’s Frog of the Week throws the spotlight on one of the larger amphibian species being featured during Frogs: Nature’s Messenger. Known as an African bullfrog (Pyxicephalus adspersus), this big guys is – believe it or not – nicknamed the “pixie” frog thanks to its Latin name!

African Bullfrog

Native to Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nambia and South Africa and is typically found in savannas, subtropical or tropical dry shrubland and freshwater lakes and marshes, this large frog is known to reach average weights of 3 – 4 pounds and 5 – 9.5 inches.

African bullfrogs are considered carnivorous and voracious eaters. They stay underground when it is too dry and hot, but during the rainy season they come to the surface and eat everything and anything, including their own species!

Look for African Bullfrogs, on exhibit in Zone A during Frogs: Nature’s Messenger, at Adventure Aquarium now through April 27.