There seems to be a new breed of clowns in town, the Costa Rican Variable Harlequin Toad (otherwise known as the Atelopus varius) with its black body and bright pink spots may look like something created by a child especially with the nick name of the “clown frog”, it is actually a critically endangered poisonous species you don’t want to mess with.
The stunning frogs once roamed from Costa Rica all the way to Panama but recently has been classed as critically endangered and been confined to a single local population in Quepos, Costa Rica.
Unlike most breed of frogs the clown frog spends most of their time hanging around in trees and on land, only venturing into the water in order to lay their eggs during mating season.
Although a beautiful looking creature the clown frog’s brightly coloured design is actually a warning sign (with most brightly coloured animals being poisonous), these harmless looking little frogs contain a poisonous neurotoxin you would not like to touch. The only predator brave enough is the parasitic sarcophagid flies which lay their eggs on the frog’s thighs, when the eggs hatch the tiny larvae feed on the unsuspecting frog by burrowing into the frog and eating in from within.
The clown frog (atelopus) eats mainly small arthropods (invertebrate animals, such as insects and arachnids) which can be found in abundance during the dry season, but they are adept at finding food sources throughout the year. In fact the frogs usually stay in the same place for long periods of time as they are slow moving animals and they have no real reason to move as their bright colours usually signal to others that they are toxic and shouldn’t be eaten.
The clown frogs have been seen to visually communicate with their partners by means of “foot-flagging” behaviour and attract mates by “waving” their hands. They tend to make deep croaking sounds which can be heard within their usual noisy waterfall environments.
The reason for the clown frogs decline in population number and critically endangered status is due to the harsh variations in climate (caused by increasing temperatures), specifically the increase in air temperature and change to precipitation pattern, making it another victim of climate change. However, the main cause of the decline in population is thought to be due to a Chytrid fungus infection which swept through Costa Rica and Panama between 1987- 2006, affecting around 80% of the population of clown frogs. The infection causes the amphibian skin to thicken and become impermeable to the transition of vital nutrients and minerals, making the frogs in effect entombed in their own skin.
Whilst you may be very unlikely to find a clown frog in England any time soon, recent evidence has shown that their population could grow in the future as conservationist work on breeding the population of the Costa Rican Variable Harlequin Toad and keeping them safe.