Jul 30

Conservationists had reason to celebrate this week as two highly threatened mountain chickens produced a massive brood of offspring.

Mountain chicken image

The mountain chicken is one of the world’s most threatened frog species

A lucky escape

On its Caribbean island home of Montserrat, the strangely named mountain chicken faces a whole host of threats, from predation to volcanic activity. Yet the biggest threat of all comes in the form of the deadly chytrid fungus, which is responsible for the deaths of thousands of amphibians and has led to the mountain chicken being considered one of the most threatened frog species in the world.

However, thanks to conservation efforts led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT), things are looking up for this intriguing amphibian. A few years ago, 50 mountain chickens were air-lifted from Montserrat in a desperate attempt to ensure a future for the species, and flown to Sweden, London and Jersey to be cared for and bred in captivity. It was hoped that this would produce a healthy population for future release into the wild.

This bold move has proved fruitful this week, as 2 of the female mountain chickens being housed at ZSL London Zoo have produced an incredible 76 tadpoles between them, massively boosting this species’ population.

We’re absolutely chuffed to bits,” said Dr Ian Stephen, ZSL’s Curator of Herpetology.

Mountain chicken tadpoles image

Nest of mountain chicken tadpoles

The original challenge

This latest success for ZSL’s mountain chicken breeding programme is the culmination of years of hard work which have seen the rescue team face many difficult tests.

The first challenge was getting them out of the Caribbean in to Europe safely,” said Dr Stephen. “Although the mountain chicken is one of the biggest frogs in the world they’re still a small animal so they’re incredibly sensitive to temperature fluctuations and that tends to be the thing that would kill a frog during transportation.”

To minimise stress on the frogs and to protect them on their long journey, the mountain chickens were transported in temperature-controlled boxes. Since their arrival in the UK, the 12 frogs have been housed in a specially designed bio-secure breeding unit, which includes temperature controlled rooms, automated spray systems and live food rearing areas. Keepers have to don full paper suits, masks and gloves in the facility, to ensure that no diseases can enter the enclosure and threaten the frogs.

Mountain chicken image

The mountain chicken is one of the largest frogs in the world

Breeding difficulties

The arrival of the 76 tadpoles is an incredible accomplishment for the ZSL team, as the mountain chicken is notoriously difficult to keep in captivity, mainly due to its voracious appetite and unusual breeding behaviour. Female mountain chickens create a special foam nest in the ground, into which they lay their eggs. The females then produce unfertilised eggs, and regularly feed them to the tadpoles.

Dr Stephen hopes that the majority of the 76 tadpoles at ZSL will survive to adulthood, with a view to releasing them on Montserrat in an area which has not yet been touched by the chytrid fungus.

Chytridiomycosis, the disease caused by the chytrid fungus, is described by Dr Stephen as being incredibly serious: “It’s probably the first time where a disease is affecting an entire class of animals. It’s moving towards driving the extinction of most of the amphibian species across the globe.

A ‘safety net’ population of mountain chickens will also be kept in captivity, in case the chytrid fungus causes any further devastating losses on the island.


Read more on this story at BBC – Frogs rescued from killer fungus have ‘massive’ brood.

Find out more about the mountain chicken on ARKive.

Learn more about amphibian conservation with Amphibian Ark and the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group.


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Jul 30

More amazing photos, videos and texts are added to ARKive every alternate week. Here is a summary of our latest update:

The stats

• 245 new species
• 1589 new images
• 89 new media donors
• 55 new texts
• 74 species ‘top facts’

What’s new – our favourite new species

White-nosed coati photo

We’ve added a new profile for the white-nosed coati


Geranium maderense

We’ve added a profile for the Critically Endangered Geranium maderense


Barred owl photo

We’ve also added a new profile for the barred owl


Strawberry frog

We have a new profile for the charismatic strawberry frog

 What’s new – our favourite new top facts

Blue whale photo

We’ve added interesting top facts for the blue whale


Tiger photo

We’ve added 5 great facts for the tiger


Ostrich photo

We’ve also added amazing top facts for the ostrich

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Jul 29
Pere David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus)

Pere David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus)

Species: Pere David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus)

Status: Extinct in the Wild (EW)

Interesting Fact: Pere David’s deer is named after Pere (Father) David, a French missionary who persuaded the Emperor of China to send some of the last remaining Chinese herd to Europe, thus saving this species from extinction.

A Chinese name for the Pere David’s deer is ‘sze pu shiang’, which translates as ‘none of the four’. This refers to the deer’s appearance as it looks like it has the neck of a camel, hooves of a cow, the tail of a donkey, and antlers of a deer. The stags may bear two pairs of antlers each year, with a larger set in summer for the rutting season, and a second set growing in January.

Almost driven to extinction, this deer now only survives in captivity. Originally inhabiting open marshland and plains of China, this deer was easily hunted. The last population in China was found in the Emperor of China’s ‘Imperial Hunting Park’, where catastrophic floods in 1865 killed the most of the population and the rest were killed during the Boxer rebellion a few years later, where troops killed and ate every surviving deer. Only those deer sent to Europe were left. Fortunately these bred well, saving this species from extinction.

In the 1980s, a population of the Pere David’s deer was reintroduced to the Dafeng Nature Reserve in China. Numbers have increased, and the deer are now contained within enclosures where the population is protected from hunting. It is hoped that at some point in the future a free-ranging population will be established in China.

Find out more about the Pere David’s deer on the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums website.

See images and videos of the Pere David’s deer on ARKive.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher

Jul 28

This week marks National Marine Week here in the UK where Wildlife Trusts up and down the country are putting on a whole host of marine related events to encourage people to get out and about and explore our stunning coasts. From rock pool exploration to searching the sands, get in touch with your local Wildlife trust to find out more about what’s going on and how you can get involved.

Why not start your marine adventures by dipping your toe into ARKive and exploring our many thousands of fascinating sea animals and plants.

On the sand

A sandy beach can often resemble a desert but if you look carefully, you can often find the sand packed with lugworms. These worms can grow up to an impressive 20 centimetres long and can be located by looking for casts of defecated sand material above their burrows. Lugworms also provide an important food source for many different species of seabirds.

Lugworm casts

Casts of deposited sand material are a sure indicator for the presence of lugworms


Lugworm photo

A lugworm outside its sandy burrow

Into the sea

Though we may complain that the sea is usually to cold to swim in, Britain’s temperate waters are frequented by over 23 different species of dolphins and whales including the bottlenose dolphins.  If you are going anywhere by boat this summer you may well see theses energetic dolphins jumping out of the sea and even riding the swell at the front of the boat.

Bottlenose dolphin pod

Pods of bottlenose dolphins are often not at all shy of boats

Britain’s cooler waters are also visited by fascinating species of fish such as basking sharks, theses humongous fish can reach weight of over 3 tonnes, all on a diet of plankton!

Basking shark photo
The basking shark requires its large mouth to passively feed on plankton

On the cliffs

A vast amount of the British coastline is cliff , which provides vital nesting sites for a huge variety of sea birds. The most distinct and recognisable of all of these is probably the puffin.  Breeding colonies are located around the UK and the birds are present from April to mid August. Visitors to these locations are usually well rewarded with sights of puffins returning to their cliff top nest burrows with beaks stuffed full of sand eels.


Puffins perched on the cliff edge


Photo of a puffin with sand eels in beak

A puffin with a successful catch of sand eels

Exploring the rock pools

Britain’s rocky shores are loaded with rock pools just waiting to be discovered. Though they may look like mini underwater paradises, rock pools are often harsh environments and are prone to high temperatures and variation in salinity. Some of the animals you can hope to see in rock pools around the UK include limpets, sea anemones, various seaweeds and a variety of crustaceans such as the common prawn and common shore crab.

Common prawn

Common prawns can often be found in rock pools...


Common shore crab

...as are common shore crabs

Remember to check the tides as the most interesting pools will only be exposed at low tide and of course don’t forget your bucket and net!

George Bradford, ARKive Media Researcher

Jul 27

Well, the day has finally arrived! Tonight, the big spectacle that is the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games will take place. It is set to be an incredible event, marking the start of an exhilarating few weeks of sporting challenges and potential Olympic glory for athletes from across the globe.

Cheetah image

Will you choose the speedy cheetah as one of your wild champions?

Here at ARKive, we’ve created our own challenge for YOU. Why not tackle our amazing fact-filled wild Olympic quiz, and see how much you know about nature’s best athletes!

On your marks…get set…


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