The Vivarium houses a collection of live amphibians and reptiles including many critically endangered species. It is unusual for a museum to care for live animals, but Manchester Museum has done so for over 50 years, offering a unique opportunity to see rare and beautiful creatures and watch conservation in action.
The Vivarium is recognised worldwide for its conservation work. A recent success story, and a landmark moment in the museum’s history, was the captive breeding of the variable harlequin toad (also known as Atelopus varius). Variable harlequin toads are tiny creatures – small enough to fit into the palm of a child’s hand – and are incredibly precious. Originating from Panama and Costa Rica, their population has experienced drastic declines in recent years, and they are classed as critically endangered. Their presence in the Vivarium is the culmination of many years of hard work and collaboration, which will help to secure the future of a species that could have disappeared entirely.
In 2018, the team began re-creating the exact conditions of the variable harlequin toad’s habitat in Panama. This included providing precise temperatures and lighting and mimicking turbulent tropical streams with boulders and rocks to encourage egg-laying. In 2021, in a moment of triumph, the team found a cluster of white eggs among the rocks in the tank. One of the world’s rarest and most endangered toads had been successfully bred in Manchester Museum.
The breeding of the variable harlequin toad is the result of an inspiring partnership project between the museum, Panama Wildlife Conservation charity (PWCC) and the Faculty of Medicine, Biology and Health at the University of Manchester. The Vivarium’s amphibians are small in size but huge in significance. They are living ambassadors for sustainability, conservation and collaboration across continents.