Care & Breeding Of The Black-eyed Tree Frog
Practical Reptile Keeping|March 2017

Introduction

While the red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) takes the limelight in media terms, being popular for advertising, and also in amphibian collections, the black-eyed tree frog, also known as Morelet’s tree frog (A. moreletii) is an equally endearing frog to keep. A large, vibrant green species, this wild amphibian is under threat in the wild. Every effort is therefore required to increase the numbers of these tree frogs, based on the stock that is currently available, and hopefully raise their profile amongst hobbyist too.

Cameron Symes and James Brereton MSc

There are a number of reasons why this fascinating species is well-worth considering as an addition to a collection, ranging from its fascinating behaviour to its interesting breeding biology although it is not an amphibian that could be recommended for a novice owner. A key requirement in order to breed this species is the use of a rain chamber, which will be discussed in detail later. This article is based upon our experiences with these tree frogs at Reaseheath zoo.

In the wild

Originally, the black-eyed tree frog was found throughout a large part of Central America, from Mexico to Guatemala, and El Salvador to Honduras. The species, however, has now become scarce throughout much of its original range, and seems to have become extinct throughout surveyed sites in Mexico.

The black-eyed tree frog is found in both lowland and mountainous areas, surviving in forested habitats. The frog requires access to pools of standing water, and will breed in both permanent and temporary lakes and pools. Habitat destruction, particularly the loss of forests, has seriously and adversely impacted on the wild Morelet’s tree frog population.

Arguably the greatest threat to the Morelet’s tree frog, however, is the emergence of amphibian chytridiomycosis (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) in native populations. Many amphibian species have suffered losses as a result of amphibian chytrid fungus infection, with some, such as the Panama golden frog (Atelopus zeteki) having become extinct in the wild as a result. It is believed that chytrid has resulted in localised extinctions across the range of the black-eyed tree frog too. As a result, this species is now classified as critically endangered (IUCN, 2004).

Unfortunately, as with many reptiles and amphibians, there have been few scientific investigations of the wild black-eyed tree frog. However, a few studies have been initiated on the species, covering the mating methods and types of call (Briggs, 2010). In addition, further studies have investigated the effects of tagging methods on bacterial colonies of A. moreletii skin: see Antwis et al (2014) for more information. As might be suspected, much of the research on this species has specifically covered the prevalence of chytridiomycosis in these frogs (Lawson et al, 2011).

Given the status of the threat to this species, there is a need to engage in conservation action for these charismatic frogs in the wild. Recognising this, Chester Zoo is participating in two research programmes in the forests of Belize. These studies will identify the currently surviving populations of black-eyed tree frogs in the wild, and, where possible, identify the presence or absence of chytrid in the locality. These studies are ultimately intended to create a conservation action plan for A. moreletii, in order to best protect the wild populations.

Captive populations

Formerly, the black-eyed tree frog was common within collections, but over the course of time, this species has been superseded by other, better-known tree frogs such as the red-eyed (A. callidryas). Morelet’s tree frog is still available within the herpetoculture trade, but such individuals should now be captive-bred. In the past, these frogs were imported wild caught for the pet trade. However, in order to afford the frog more protection, especially given its conservation status, it has been uplisted to CITES Appendix II, limiting international trade.

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