One of the world’s rarest toads bred in captivity for first time by Manchester scientists

Scientists at Manchester Museum recreated conditions for the endangered Variable Harlequin Toad - that lives in Panama - to thrive in Manchester.

The Manc The Manc - 9th March 2021
The Variable Harlequin Toad has been bred by scientists in Manchester / Image: University of Manchester

One of the rarest types of toads on the planet has been bred in captivity outside its original country for the first time by scientists at Manchester Museum.

Variable Harlequin Toads – indigenous to the tropical rainforests of Panama in Central America – are now hopping under the cool, grey skies of Manchester; with the local Museum’s Vivarium team recreating the conditions needed for these amphibians to thrive.

This has included setting exact temperatures and special lighting, as well as building the kinds of ‘turbulent’ streams where Harlequin Toads (Atelopus varius) like to lay their eggs (with rocks and boulders).

These conditions also enabled the growth of tropical algae – which the tadpoles eat with sucker-like mouthparts.

Scientists have been working with Panama Wildlife Charity PWCC and the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Medicine, Biology and Heath for three years to make the project a reality.


Curator of Herpetology at the museum, Andrew Gray explained: “The University is the only institution outside Panama to house these toads; it’s a huge responsibility the team do not take lightly. So we’re over the moon we’ve achieved the first captive breeding of this remarkable species.

“The adults can stay underwater for very long periods before breeding and were in the aquarium for over a month.


“We were very nervous about putting them in such deep water but they walked along the bottom just like they were walking on land; it was unbelievable.”

UoM’s Professor Amanda Bamford, who worked with the team in Panama, said it was a “fabulous project.”

She stated: “I’m particularly proud of our collaboration with our Panamanian conservationist colleagues, which involves training local people as co-researchers and providing educational resources to local schoolchildren in the area.


“I feel this project uniquely involves research, education and community involvement and is a beacon for such conservation initiatives.”

Harlequin Toads – sometimes referred to as ‘clown frogs’ – remain rare in their native land of Central America and under threat primarily due to ‘chytrid fungus’ which stops their skin from regulating the movement of water and electrolytes.