This year, 2018, it is just 30 years that I come in Madagascar. This is for studying and protecting amphibians and reptiles. The first year I came was just for holidays. It was really funny and interesting to devote myself to the study of a really peculiar herpetofauna! I came from Europe, where I was just studying newts, and Madagascar, with its plethora of frogs, treefrogs, lizards and snakes was a conspicuous heaven. At the same time, conservation problems were already known. Maybe not too "famous" for herps, but more or less on the same lines as those of lemurs and forests. My first visit was at Nosy Mangabe (see photo here attached: happy and with some more hair than now!). After that herp-holiday I repeated my travels to Madagascar so many times that I do not know the exact number of visits. I must say that this country has become my elected nation after Italy. Extraordinarily beautiful but suffering. Forests are disappearing at a very quick rate, people is even poorer and in much worst conditions than in the Eighties. During this period it has been so beautiful to discover many new species of frogs, lizards and snakes in company of colleagues and friends. But even more interesting and – I hope – useful, having acted for the conservation of Malagasy amphibians. With the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group we made and carried out several projects and formed young Malagasy herpetologists.
When I passed in the Vohimana Forest, East Madagascar, I had the exceptional luck to find a considerable number of white-lipped treefogs, Boophis albilabris. This anuran is really particular since, first of all, it is large (up to 81 mm), and then because it shows a very variable colouration, passing from brown to green, with a number of irregular spots. The most interesting thing, or at least one of the most interesting ones, is that during the breeding season males develop pointed tubercles on the back, breast, underside of legs. Part of these tubercles form the so-called nuptial pads, which are used to embrace females during the amplexus. Then, B. albilabris aggregate along streams, especially when cyclones arrive. They are representatives of the so-called "explosive breeders": they mate in just 1-2 nights, when they become visible in hundreds of individuals, after which they disappear as they appeared, like ghosts. During these aggregations they emit low-frequency vocalizations and engage in real battles, with many males around just one female. In this they are somehow similar to what happens in Europe with the common toads Bufo bufo. In Vohimana I found several individuals, and they were really visible. Most likely this was due to the presence/arrival of cyclones, typical meteorological phenomena of the tropical area. In fact, a few days later the strong tropical storm Eliakim stroke Madagascar. Those beautiful Boophis were just ambassadors of its arrival.
I was already in the Vohimana Forest around 30 years ago. It was one of the first raiforests that I ever visited. I was so amazed and so astonished by the beauty of the forest itself, and by the kindness of people living there. At that time the forest was simply called “an’ala”, that in Malagasy just means “the forest”. Under this name I published one of my first papers on the amphibians of Madagascar. In fact, during that visit I found two really beautiful Mantella species, living in syntopy. They were Mantella pulchra and Mantella baroni. At that time the ultimate and correct Latin name of pulchra was not known, and it was named as Mantella cowani pulchra. These two species lived (and still live) together and have very similar colourations. Incidentally they are both toxic, but they belong to two different phylogenettic clusters and are not so closely related. Mantella baroni has sharp colouration of the back, and scattered blue spots on the belly. Mantella pulchra has a much golden head, has a horse-shoe shaped throat bluish belly and reddish marks on the underside of the thighs. I assumed, in my scientific naivity, that they were a good example of Müllerian mimicry. Both toxic and with similar renforcing colouration. It has been with a sort of nostalgy that I visited again Vohimana (or “an’ala”), and I looked again at Mantella pulchra in the almost untouched habitat there. No, Mantella baroni I did not find it. I heard it but I wasn’t able to spot it (the photo that I put here is from another site “Amalonabe”, not so far). Vohimana appears as a beautiful forest, and is a really nice place where to carry out future herpetological studies and education activities.
mantella baroni from amalonabe
mantella pulchra vohimana
mantella pulchra vohimana flash marks
The Andasibe Forest where I am now hosts an incredible number of frogs. In Madagascar the endemic frogs and treefrogs are more than 420. Every time we pass in the forests of the large island we find new species. We have to struggle to describe them all: the problem is that most of them are so microendemic that the disappearance of one small forest fragment due to human activities can make disappear a distinct species, at a much accelerated rate. In Andasibe, Perinet, Analamazaotra, Maromizaha, Ambavaniasy and Vohimana the species number is much higher than 100. Their conservation is an imperative.
The presentation of the co-chair of the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group Madagascar, Andolalao Rakotoarison, occurred on the 7th March at the Espace OLEP at Ambatobe, Antananarivo. This was also the occasion to present the activities of the group for the conservation of the endemic frogs of Madagascar. Currently around 418 species are known for the Grand’Ile. Andolalao contributed to the implementation of this high number with the description of 26 new species of the miniaturised frog genus Stumpffia. The ASG will work to identify at least one site featured by the presence of a high number of species, and/or boosting the conservation of an iconic and threatened species, like Mantella cowanii. At the same time, great importance will be given to frog-oriented education. The ASG is collaborating actively with many other environmental institutions and ministerial authorities.
Sono esattamente 30 anni che frequento il Madagascar, isola che mi affascina tuttora. Quando ho iniziato a venire qui ben pochi pensavano alla conservazione delle sue rane, oggi note con oltre 350 specie. Adesso la soddisfazione è grande: sul nuovo biglietto da 100 Ariary svetta nella sua bellezza e la sua colorazione una Mantella baroni. Beh, fino a non tanto addietro del Madagascar si ricordavano i lemuri, le foreste, il mare. Non le rane…
It is exactly 30 years that I frequent Madagascar, an island that still fascinates me. When I started coming here very few people thought about the conservation of its frog fauna, today known with over 350 species. Now the satisfaction is great: on the new ticket of 100 Ariary there is the drawing of beautiful Mantella baroni. Well, until not so much ago of Madagascar they mentioned lemurs, forests, the sea. Not (yet) the frogs …