Sunday, March 18, 2012

Inside the New Exhibits | part 3 — Amazon

(Continued from Part 2, Costa Rica exhibit)

Cruziohyla craspedopus | Fringed leaf frog on exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

The Frogs of the Amazon Basin exhibit was exciting to develop. First, it would be displaying one of the most captivating species I had ever read about — Cruziohyla craspedopus | The Fringed leaf frog.

We have 2 on display right now, and those are the only two of the species on exhibit — anywhere in the world! There are only 10 individuals in the country, and all of them are here in our amphibian conservation collection, either on exhibit or in our captive breeding lab. Before working at the Garden, I had only dreamed about being in the same room with a Fringed leaf frog. Very little is known about the species due to their rarity and the fact that they live high in the tree canopy in the Amazon rainforest, never needing to come to the ground for anything. If you would like to see this species in the wild ... you have got to get way up in the tree canopy to do it.

Ranitomeya imitator | Mimic poison frog

The other species on exhibit with C. craspedopus is a Mimic poison frog | Ranitomeya imitator. These beautiful  and diminutive poison frogs inhabit bromeliads in the wild, breeding within the leaf axils where the water collects. With Mike's help, we located some suitable Amazonian bromeliads to incorporate into the exhibit design.

In addition to Mike's help selecting plants from the Amazon, I had several other resources at my disposal for this exhibit. Dante Fenolio, my boss and Amphibian Conservation Scientist has been to this region of the neotropics regularly since his youth ... often times with amphibian experts from the region.  He and Bill Lamar (our friend and collaborator) are two of the few people with first hand knowledge of this species in the wild, and after consulting with them, it seemed like the exhibit would serve the frogs best if it resembled a 'tree hole' or a gap in a tree where a branch once was ...

The Fringed leaf frogs are captiviating

In the wild, when a branch falls from the tree, it can leave a hole which can collect small amounts of water. These private caverns can occur at any elevation in the tree line, and they are the perfect refuge for Fringed leaf frogs to breed in. Another resource I had for this exhibit was a beautiful piece of driftwood donated to the exhibit by Becky Brinkman, curator of orchids. This was instrumental for the display, as I felt it naturally looked like a treehole, and I imagined if it was pressed up against the front of the glass, it might give the illusion of being filled up with water if I raised the water level a couple of inches. Once in place the wood also served as the foundation for the rest of the exhibit, organically leaving places for the plant material Mike has helped me select, as well as all the mosses and ferns that Dave Ruland donated from the conservatory greenhouse. The Amazon exhibit is a truly collaborative effort between the frog guys and the plant folks.

A guest getting a picture of the Mimic poison frog

A visiting school group watching the 'craspys' stuff their faces

An incredible species that we are lucky to be able to work with. We have pairs in the rain-chamber right now and will hopefully have some babies before too long.
I knew from working with C . craspedopus in the lab that they were voracious feeders, often grabbing prey items with both hands before forcing it in their mouths. This is often accompanied by a 'one-toe dangle' from a branch or a leaf that is quite dramatic. I wanted the exhibit to accommodate tong feeding for the visitors.

They also seem to like to sleep in the dead center of a leaf ... benefitting from their 'fringes' to break up the distinctive frog shape that would be otherwise easily recognizable by birds, snakes or other predators of the Amazon tree canopy. We wanted to provide them with a choice of nice broad leaves to sleep on and still be visible. Dante suggested I find plants with leaves robust enough to support the frogs weight well, as these frogs don't like to sleep on leaves that sway too much. They like a solid leaf. I thought if I provided them with 4 to 6 nice strong leaves to sleep on, and located each of these leaves prominently in the exhibit, that we would hopefully have a good chance of seeing these elusive animals all the time, albeit sleeping ... so far it has worked out even better than I expected and they really seem to enjoy their setup. You can find them sleeping peacefully just about all day, every day ... and if you would like to see them eat, be sure to come by the lobby @ 11 on a Saturday!