The Lemur Leaf Frog – Is It Real?

This unique creature, known as the Lemur Leaf Frog, has some really incredible abilities. It regularly elicits anonymous comments on the internet such as “I can’t be real”, “It looks like it’s been Photo Shopped”, “What is up with the eye makeup?” Rest assured the lemur leaf frog is indeed real, at least for now.


The Origins of the Lemur Leaf Frog:

Not a lot is known about the evolution of this creature; however, it appears to be closely related to the common tree frog with some very distinct differences. The common tree frog is so named because it is found nearly everywhere there are trees. In comparison, the Lemur Leaf Frog is listed with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered. This is a great concern as the lemur leaf frog could easily become extinct. What is the history of this species and what are the issues leading to its potential demise?

Lemur Leaf Frog

Hylomantis lemur, so named by George Albert Boulenger, a renowned Belgian-British zoologist, in 1882 was originally placed in the Phyllomedusa genus. This genus encompasses tree frogs inhabiting Central and South America and contains approximately 30 species.

The lemur leaf frog was moved to the genus Hylomantis, or “rough tree frogs” as noted in Faivovich et al, 2005. This genus contained only 2 species until the lemur leaf frog joined the group, but there are now some other members. Following the change in designation, Hylomantis lemur was renamed Agalychnis lemur. It shares this genus with such unusual species as the Pink-sided Tree Frog, Gliding Tree Frog, Red Eye Tree Frog, and Blue-sided Tree Frog.

What’s in a name?

Endangered Lemur Leaf Frog

Lemur Leaf Frog Photo credit: Adam Fink, Zookeeper, Manager of Reptile and Amphibian Exhibits & Care, Oakland Zoo

Oakland, CA USA (used with permission)

The word lemur is Latin for “ghost” or “spirit”. This frog truly meets that definition. One look at the large eyes, slender body, and coloration is a clue to this frog’s habitat and lifestyle. Tree frogs, by nature, are arboreal (tree dwelling) and most are nocturnal. The lemur leaf frog takes this to a new level. Its eyes, in addition to being enormous compared to relative body size, are super sensitive. The vertical pupils are reminiscent of geckos and some snakes. The relative eye size is also found in the mammal version of the lemur.

These features are commonly found among creatures that hide by day and are active by night. The lemur leaf frog is no exception. Like most other tree frogs makes a diet of insects and other invertebrates.

The Lemur Leaf Frog in Its Habitat

These features are commonly found among creatures that hide by day and are active by night. The lemur leaf frog, like most other tree frogs makes a diet of insects and other invertebrates. This can consist of species found on plants and trees, in the water, and on the fool of the rain forest.

The range of the lemur tree frog is fairly limited and consists of warm region areas. It is found in Costa Rica, Panama, and northern Columbia. While all tree frogs tend to dwell off the ground surface, the lemur leaf frog tends to inhabit shrubby plants in the undergrowth of the canopy regions where it is cooler during the day. It is usually found resting on top of leaf growth, but is also favors the underside of leaves.

How does the frog cling upside down to leaves? Look at the feet. Instead of the normal webbed configuration, this frog has extremely versatile toes much like that of the geckos that are seen clinging to ceilings. The feet are very slender with long toes and extra wide pads at the end that aid in gripping.

Hylomantis lemurThe lemur leaf frog also looks rather frail and thin, however, this can be deceiving. The sheer lack of weight gives the frog a distinct advantage. It can hide unnoticed on a leaf without causing the leaf to look strained and heavy – a dead giveaway for other heavier species.

The lemur leaf frog has many more tricks up its “sleeve”, so to speak.

In addition to the brilliant, almost neon, green pigmentation and unusual lemon yellow colored non-webbed feet this frog has excellent night vision due to the oversized eyes with vertical irises and vivid black rings. The eyes themselves are a silvery to somewhat fawn color during the day. If that’s not intimidating enough for potential predators, the lemur leaf frog transforms at night.

Photo by Brian Gratwicke (Creative Commons).

The legs and toes change from yellow to brown, the back takes on a darker green coloration and where there might have been a few light brownish spots in the green dorsal part of the body, a series of deep red freckles to splotches appear. This provides the perfect camouflage for night hunting scenarios.

In addition to the ability to change color body-wise, the frog’s eyes also change from the luminescent silver of daytime to dark gray, further hiding them.

All frogs have the capability to jump, hop, and leap but this little creature prefers to traverse using a hand-over-hand method. This, presumably, aids in contributing to the stealth mode for finding prey while avoiding detection by potential predators.

Reproductive Habits

Most tree frogs tend to use the ovipositor to lay eggs and then bind the mass by wrapping it in leaf rolls for safety. The lemur leaf frog differs from other groups in that the female deposits the egg mass directly onto the upper side of a leaf and lets nature take its course.

Mating sites are near slow moving water sources in humid forest environments and breeding occurs during the rainy season. Rain washes the egg mass into the water below where the eggs will hatch and the young learn to survive on their own. In the event that rain does not move the egg mass into the water, the emerging tadpoles wiggle their way on to the edge of the leaf where they are able to drop into the water on their own.

lemur leaf frog pictures

From hatching through tadpole stage to adulthood takes between 90 and 150 days. The rate of growth is largely dependent on water temperature – the warmer, the faster the transformation and the better the chances for survival. Hatchlings are extremely vulnerable during this period and not well adapted to fending off predators such as birds, fish, and snakes.

Vocalization

Tree frogs, like most other frogs, are known for making distinctive sounds. These vocalizations are associated with mating activity and used by males to attract females. Each frog species has a unique “call”.

Photo by Brian Gratwicke (Creative Commons).

The bullfrog is one everyone is familiar with its deep croaking sound. Tree frogs tend to have a softer, almost chirping sound. Some are very high pitched and resemble cricket noises, while others have a more melodic cadence.

The lemur leaf tree frog has a distinctive call that consists of a somewhat standard tree frog noise, followed by a chirp, and then a few clicks for good measure.

Threats

The lemur leaf frog’s biggest threats come from disease and deforestation related habitat loss. The fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, causes a serious threat to frogs worldwide by interfering with breathing mechanisms. Frogs “breathe” through their skin as much as through normal breathing; therefore, any blockage to the skin can be devastating to the health of the frog. Common names for this disease are Chytridiomycosis or Chytrid Fungus.

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis

Photo credit: AJ Cann, Flickr Commons, 09/01/2006The lemur leaf frog may have fended off this insidious disease somewhat due to a unique pigmentation, known as pterorhodin, found in the skin. This adaptation allows the frog to bask in sunlight for long periods of time without the danger of drying out.  In addition, the pigmentation reflects heat off the frog’s surface. Since the fungus is much less infectious at higher temperatures, this reflective action may, in certain cases, prevent the disease from taking root on the actual skin surface.

Still, the fungus has taken a great toll on the species and where commonly found previously throughout Costa Rica, the lemur leaf frog has few strongholds left. Populations in western Panama are also reported to be notably smaller in recent years.

The other factor in the dwindling numbers of the lemur leaf frog is deforestation. This diminutive creature has a very limited habitat and is found only in the rain forest areas of Costa Rica, Panama, and Columbia. Their favorite surroundings are in the shrubby areas below the canopy, close to the water. When the large trees are cut down, the shrubs succumb to the resulting intense sunlight and heat, thereby eliminating the safe haven the lemur leaf frog has long called home.

What is being done to save the Lemur Leaf Frog?

Many institutions have come forth to aid the tiny frog in an attempt to remove it from the Critically Endangered list. Two such organizations with very successful programs are the Oakland Zoo located in Oakland, California in the United States and the Bristol Zoo located within the southwest region of the United Kingdom.

Lemur leaf frog - Hylomantis lemur

Both of these institutions are extremely focused on the conservation of endangered species and have extensive highly successful breeding programs in place.

How can you help?

Nearly every Zoo, Botanical Garden, Nature Preserve, and “Save the …” Foundation has an “adoption” program. Sponsorship of a creature greatly in need of help provides the funding to keep endangered species from the threat of extinction.

In addition, it lets personnel, like Adam Fink (zookeeper in charge of reptiles/amphibians and photographer for the Oakland Zoo) and Nicky Mora (Senior Manager, Marketing/PR, Oakland Zoo) know that their efforts and hard work are truly appreciated.

Visiting your local zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, or nature preserve shows that you care and you never know “who” you may meet there – it could even be a lemur leaf frog!