Tag Archives: frog

Mistbelt Chirping Frog

– Article written by Nick Evans of KZN Amphibian and Reptile Conservation –

In the KZN Midlands lives a tiny little frog, which few people have seen, and most members of the public have never heard of: the Mistbelt Chirping Frog (Anhydrophryne ngongoniensis).

Mistbelt Chirping Frog 3

Appearance

It really is a tiny frog! Their maximum size is a measly 22mm. It’s a very pretty little frog, being a light golden brown colour, with speckles running down its back in a striped formation. It has a dark band on each side of its head.

A species in danger!

The Mistbelt Chirping Frog is currently listed as ‘Endangered’, by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It was previously listed as Critically Endangered, before survey work was carried out by herpetologist and researcher, James Harvey. He had found a few new localities, which came as great news for this species.

It only occurs in mistbelt areas in the KZN Midlands, in high altitude, moist grasslands. So it is not a widespread species at all. Unfortunately for this frog, much of its habitat has been destroyed for exotic tree plantations. Even its habitat type is considered endangered! The last few remaining areas in which this frog occurs in, are rather fragmented by these plantations, isolating populations. These mostly fall under private land, owned by forestry companies. Other threats include invasive alien plants, which take smother these grasslands, over-grazing, and incorrect burning programmes.

The few areas that are still home to this frog desperately need to be conserved, so that the world does not lose yet another species. It may be small, but it still matters. It still plays a role in a functioning environment. Fortunately, it is being monitored by the likes of James and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Mistbelt Chirping Frog 2

Did you know?

This species was only discovered and described in 1993! That was probably because of its size, and its undistinctive call, a subtle, insect-like, chirping sound.

What’s also interesting about this frog, is that they do not breed in water. Most frogs lay their eggs in water, but the Mistbelt Chirping Frog lays its eggs in leaf-litter!

Mistbelt Chirping Frog 1

Survey and photography mission

I was fortunate enough to join James Harvey recently, on some of his survey work. We went to a site near the Ixopo area where he had heard and found this species before.

We arrived in the afternoon, and conditions were perfect. There was a light drizzle, and it was misty too. The common but rarely seen Plaintive Rain Frogs were out in force, and although we did not see any, we heard dozens! Our hopes were lifted when, amongst the Rain Frog calls, we started hearing a couple of Mistbelt ‘Chirpers’! We walked down the slope where they were calling, hoping to find one. James warned me that they were extremely difficult frogs to find, and I soon learnt that he was not wrong. The long grass was so thick. Finding a frog that’s only two centimetres in length was seemingly impossible. Thankfully though, James knew a spot where it should be easier to find them, where the grass was a little shorter and slightly sparser than these thick patches we were searching in.

As we approached this particular area, we could hear a good few calling. Frogs are always easier to find at night, when they are generally more active and call from more obvious positions. However, we thought we’d have a quick try before heading back to camp for dinner, and resuming the search after dark. We were trying to track them down by their call, but as soon as you got one or two meters away, the little blighters would go silent. However, there was one that didn’t stop calling. Luck was on our side, and we spotted one quite high up in a grass tuft, calling. I scooped it up in my hands in great excitement, and called James to 100% confirm what I was holding- it was indeed a Mistbelt Chirping Frog! I was overjoyed! James was too, as despite his research work, he had only seen a handful of them. But our luck didn’t end there.

We returned to the sight that evening. We tracked down one which was calling in a tuft of grass. We were desperately trying to pinpoint its location, as it would emit a chirp every now and then. I thought it was in one place, and James thought it was in another. Their calls can confuse you like that. Eventually, we discovered we were looking in the wrong place. We thought it was calling at the base of the grass, when in fact, it had climbed around thirty centimetres up the grass clump, and was calling from there! Stunned at our luck of now finding two, we then went onto find another three in quick succession! Five endangered Mistbelt Chirping Frog, wow, just wow! We just couldn’t believe our luck! Our hard work certainly paid off!

This frog is one of the most difficult species to find that I have ever searched for. It’s been a species I have long wanted to see, and I feel privileged that my chance finally came around. We are now one of the few people that have actually seen and photographed this frog. What a special little animal.

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It really is tiny!

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Gareth’s News on BSP

Gareth Boothway reports on what has been happening in the MCF’s Biodiversity Stewardship Project, which he manages, lately.

October, November and December 2012 were very busy months for the MCF’s Biodiversity Stewardship Project.  This is an important period for getting veld condition and biodiversity index assessments done on the Stewardship sites before the growing season ends.  These assessments are very important in determining trends in management practices for our sites, which mostly contain the Critically Endangered Midlands Mistbelt Grasslands and the equally important Drakensberg Foothill Moist Grasslands.

Acalypha.res

In reserves where cattle are allowed to graze, veld condition assessments are done (in partnership with EKZNW and CEDARA) in order to provide the future managers with a plan to determine acceptable stocking rates as well as an ecologically sensitive grazing plan.  This coupled with a suitable fire programme, enables managers can start to manage the grasslands and wetlands with the aim of maintaining or improving biodiversity levels.

Biodiversity index assessments determine existing biodiversity levels in the grasslands, with a focus on the non-gramminoid plants (non-grasses).  These plant forms make up approximately 80% of grassland diversity!  Like certain grass species, some of the non-grasses acts as important indicators of grassland health and the increase or decrease of these species are telling signs of how management practices such as fire and grazing are affecting ecosystem health.  Monitoring plots are established which are re-sampled every 5 years to determine trends in biodiversity levels and species composition.

The focus areas for this work our site assessments during October to December were the Fort Nottingham and Michaelhouse Nature Reserves.

The Fort Nottingham Nature Reserve, to be proclaimed in 2013, is owned by the uMngeni Municipality, with a small portion being owned by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.  The grassland and forest area are well over 1000 hectares in extent and the area is very important site for Oribi conservation.

Sampling a plot on Fort Nottingham in the rain with Isabel Johnson (CREW), Ulla Heckert a volunteer from Germany and a UKZN PhD student.

sampling a plot at Fort Nottingham

Doing this work in the growing season means sometimes working in the rain!  It is however a great opportunity to identify plants. Getting down on your knees often reveals smaller flowering plants otherwise missed.

getting down to find plants

We found plenty of Hair bells (Dierama)

dierama

Tiny fungi growing in dung are also recorded.

tiny fungi growing in dung

While we focus largely on recording plant life, discovering critters like this Long Toed Tree Frog (Endangered) is always cool!

long toed tree frog

We have two UKZN PhD students working on Fort Nottingham at the moment.  One student is looking into what is causing the drop in Oribi numbers there.   The Oribi Population has decreased by about 50% over the last decade.   It is feared that the jackal population has increased significantly which are predating on Oribi lambs.  Other aspects of his research include determining the effects of cattle on Oribi survival and determining if Baboons might also be predating on young Oribi.

The other student is researching the impacts of cattle grazing and trampling on the non-grasses.  While we know intensive grazing will damage some plants, research on the recovery rates of certain plants is not widely published.  The findings from this study will add to the tools and knowledge currently used to determine ecologically suitable grazing practices in Nature Reserves.

Michaelhouse Nature Reserve is interesting in that cattle also graze there but the managers are testing the potential role of cattle to manage grasslands as a substitute for using fire.  In normal farming circumstances, fire is often used to promote grass growth and vigor for cattle to graze.  The same applies to managing sourveld grasslands in protected areas.   Improved grass vigor means better animal production.   By concentrating cattle in high numbers in a particular area for short periods, a similar effect to what fire does is achieved.   We discussed the pros and cons of using cattle as management tools for Nature Reserves with EKZNW staff, UKZN scientists, private landowners and Michaelhouse management staff.

discussing pros and cons of cattle use

In protected areas where natural biodiversity levels need to be protected, cattle need to be managed very carefully so that they do not overgraze or trample the plants that they do not eat. It is difficult to achieve this with cattle as they  need to graze an area relatively well to prevent grasses from becoming moribund, an issue which fire often takes care of easily.  Cattle on the property are controlled by portable electric fencing.

cattle controlled by electric fencing

It will be interesting to compare this practice with a similar site which promotes the use of fire and determine which method achieves the best levels of species richness.  One concern that is often expressed by those in favour in using fire for management is that many non-grasses in grasslands are actually adapted to fire with many species depending on fire for increased vigor, stimulating flowering and in some cases it is critical for seed germination.  Calves are not counted as part of the herd as grazers but do have a trampling effect on plants.

calves

The Midlands Conservancies Forum has been approached by Michaelhouse to assist them with management of their Nature Reserve, which will be an exciting challenge! To determine the impacts of excluding fire and using cattle to fulfill its role, several monitoring plots have been established and will be monitored in the long term. Sampling one of the plots on Michaelhouse Nature Reserve with EKZNW, CREW and WWF staff.

sampling at Michaelhouse

Found in one of the plots – The Endangered Fanninia caloglossa, described by the Botanist and Farmer from the Dargle area in 1847.

fanninia caloglossa

Exploring for new sites:

Dunsink in the Giants castle area is a privately owned farm which borders on EKZNW’s Giants Castle Nature Reserve.  The landowner who already participates in the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, having donated land for protection, wishes to incorporate Dunsink into the programme too.  In effect this property could become part of the Ukahlamba Drakensberg Park.  The Bushmans river runs through the property.

Bushman's river at Dunsink

An initial site visit was conducted to assess the general condition of the property.   The property will need to be assessed and reviewed by the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship programme in the near future, but given its location and condition will qualify as a Nature Reserve. There are Protea savannah stands on the property.

stands of protea savannah

Xysmalobium undulatum a milkweed species occurs on the property and is used for medicinal purposes locally and internationally in Europe!

xysmalobium undulatum

I visited a private farm in Currys Post (Near Howick) in November and although small it has the potential to be formally protected.  The farm is owned by the Chris Carey and has indicated interest in participating in the Stewardship Programme.

Carey  - Curry's Post

Along with a neighbouring property, it sits at the perfect altitude and provides suitable habitat and host plants (Indigofera woodii) for the Karkloof Blue Butterfly (restricted to a small area in the Karkloof valley).  Alepidea amatymbica – A Vulnerable species under threat from illegal harvesting.

alepidea amatymbica

Pachycarpus natalensis found on the property

pachycarpus natalensis