More beasts from the Vancouver Aquarium

June 10, 2015 • 10:15 am

Here are some more photos I took at the Vancouver Aquarium, with today’s concentrating on the beasts shown me by frog researcher and conservationist Kris Rossing, my host.

Arriving at Stanley Park to walk to the Aquarium, I was struck by the number of black squirrels. I noticed a lot more yesterday on the campus of the University of Toronto. Canada is FULL of black squirrels, and I have no idea why:

1. Black squirrel

One of the missions of the Aquarium is to save endangered frogs, by either breeding them in captivity for hoped-for later release, or simply preserving nearly extinct species for people to see. One of the endangered ones is the Oregon spotted frog (Rana pretiosa), which appears to be found in only three ponds in British Columbia. It’s endangered because of habitat loss and, especially, non-native bullfrogs (introduced for food!), which have the habit of eating the spotted frogs. They are raising them en mass in the Aquarium, but they are shy, so I didn’t get a good photo. This one is taken from the California Herps site:


Another endangered species in BC (habitat loss again) is the Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens, formerly Rana pipiens). It’s a gorgeous animal and they’re not shy in aquaria, so I was able to take this photo. Look at those lovely golden eyes!

2. Leopard frog

The frog shown below is almost certainly extinct in the wild; it sings with the choir invisible. It is the gorgeous Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki), which is really a toad. Its extinction is largely due to the infectious fungus “chytrid,” which has wiped out so many frogs. It’s also toxic, as you might tell from its color. Unlike many “poison arrow frogs,” though, its toxin is manufactured in its body. Other such frogs, like dendrobatids, manufacture their poison from their food and lose their toxicity in aquaria:

16. Golden frogs

David Attenborough took one of the last videos of this frog in the wild, showing its bizarre behavior of  male arm-waving” to find females and intimidate other males, for their territories are near waterfalls that drown out their calls. Waving is hard for a frog since its front limbs aren’t designed for that behavior!

This frog will probably never again exist in the wild.

The species below, the red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) is, fortunately, not endangered, and is a favorite on frog tee shirts and calendars. It’s an arboreal (tree-dwelling) species found in the Neotropics. In aquaria they tend to cling to the sides of the tank using capillary action of their wet bellies. That gives you the chance to take cool photos like this, taken from the top of a tank. Yes, that’s the whole frog, pressed flat on the glass:

18. Red eyed frog

A more conventional view; they spend a lot of time resting on leaves:

19. Red eyed frog

And an indication of its size:

20. Red eyued frog

The Aquarium is the holding place for a lot of animals imported illegally into Canada, where they wait until court cases are resolved. This is Kris holding a baby green anaconda (Eunectes murinus):

17. Baby green anaconda

Walking through the vet clinic, I saw a green parrot undergoing an operation. It had either cancer or an infection, and was under anesthesia. I forgot the species, but I hope the bird made it:

2a Parrot operation

Finally, when I was waiting for the bus into town, this little bandit walked brazenly up to the garbage bin next to me and inspected it for noms. Not finding any, it walked away in disgust. The raccoon (Procyon lotor) was not at all afraid of humans:

21. Raccoon

30 thoughts on “More beasts from the Vancouver Aquarium

  1. All very interesting. Perhaps the melanistic sqrrll is a case of the founder effect. Maybe this could be addressed with a genetic test on their diversity.
    I did not know that the N. leopard frog has declined in population. I think this is the species that I often saw while growing up in Iowa, but I am not sure.
    Who would want an anaconda for a pet?? Never mind. There are people who want their own pet lion or pet cobra, so this should not be surprising. Some people just want to possess an animal that can kill them. The range of crazy humans is astounding.

  2. I also noticed the preponderance of black squirrels while in Toronto nearly ten years ago. They’re beautiful, aren’t they? There used to be some around Richmond, Virginia, when I was a child, but I barely recall seeing one, when I grew up, and that was nearly 40 years ago.

    What is the difference between a toad and a frog?

    1. We have loads of black squirrels in NoVa. Maybe its just coat color making them look not as fluffy, but they seem to be a bit scrawnier than the regular grays and browns (technically all gray squirrels, I guess).

  3. My son the amphibian lover says toads are generally dry and warty while frogs are moist and smooth. Alos: says that technically toads are all frogs, but toads are Bufonidae family and frogs are Ranidae family.

    1. So I can keep applying the term “frog” to all the frog-like critters in my yard and not be wrong?

      Someone had told me that frogs live in water and toads live on land, but that doesn’t make sense when tree frogs come into the picture.

  4. When I was a kid in Montreal in the 50s, most squirrels were gray. When I moved to Toronto in the 60s, most were black. They are mostly black around Ottawa where I live now.

    The raccoons of Stanley Park can be frightening. We stopped for a lunch there once and turned around in time to see five young ones descending on us. This was after seeing a raccoon chase a lady and her little dog through the streets of town the night before. Quite unnerving.

    I recently read your Evolution is True book and loved it. I am not strong in science but was able to follow most of it.

  5. I have to think the melanistic variety is dominate but I’m sure the professor would know. We introduced one and then another black squirrel in our area and in a few years we had as many black ones as regular.

    I also think Mark is correct on the leopard frog but the frogs have really taken a hit in the past several years.

  6. I have to ask: Why is a frog found only in BC called the Oregon spotted frog, and why does its picture appear on a website of California herps?

    Perhaps you mean that its range extends from California to BC, but in BC it’s found in only a few locations.

  7. On the melanistic squirrel theme, I used to spend summer holidays in gubbio in Umbria Italy. There the squirrels were black or red. I supposed two different species although they were both about the same size.

  8. When I was at that aquarium 3 or 4 years ago there were about 5 big raccoons cruising for burgers near the snack bar. They were so unafraid I wondered if they were rabid. Probably just acclimated to humans with noms.

      1. Might raccoons be honorary cat candidates, cruising for cheeseburgers (icanhazcheeseburger-style), deciding its worth shifting from nocturnal to diurnal?

    1. Once after a day of canoeing as I was heading back to my launch point I came across a raccoon rooting around on the bank of the stream. I drifted his way to have a look, and though he backed up a bit and seemed a bit nervous, he stayed and seemed to want something from me.

      I had a bag full of bite-sized sausages that I had brought along for a snack left over, so I decided to see if wanted them. I gently pulled up to the bank and tossed one as close to him as I could. He seemed to really enjoy it.

      Eventually he was sitting right next to the canoe and I was feeding him by hand. He was very careful and very alert. The entire time he stared me right in the eyes, never looking at my hand or the food. I would hold a sausage out to him and he would blindly reach out with both forepaws, gently patting and grasping my hand & fingers until he found the sausage by feel and then grasping it in both hands and bringing it up to his mouth. Not for an instant did his eyes leave mine.

      His little fingers and hands were so gentle, articulate, soft and smooth, they felt like tiny human hands wearing a nice pair of soft leather gloves.

      1. What a wonderful experience! I just remembered that years ago when I was visiting the local Humane Society with my young kids, probably checking out the kittehs, the HS was fostering two baby raccoons which had been orphaned. The people let us pet the coons and one of them climbed right up my daughter’s pants leg, much to her delight. They had such soft and gentle paws, as you mentioned. Of course my kids wanted to take them home, but I understand they can be very destructive in a house when full-grown.

        1. Oh my, yes. Adult raccoons are not to be taken lightly. Curious, smart, stubborn and can be really agressive. They don’t generally make good pets.

          They have quite the reputation among hunters who use dogs. A bit of traditional wisdom is to make damn sure your dog doesn’t get too far ahead of you chasing a raccoon, or worse break contact altogether. Apparently, it is not unusual for raccoons to cause some serious damage to hunting dogs and even to kill them.

          Supposedly a classic tactic raccoons use is to lead the dog to water and then after the dog is in the water to climb onto the dogs head and drown them.

  9. Love seeing the frog photos so much! We had a lot of rain here last month, and the Gray Tree Frogs (Hyla versicolor)are in full concert mode at the moment. I get the directional effects as I walk my d*gs past different trees in the nearby park and wood pasture.

    I took my car in for a roadworthiness check yesterday, and had forgotten that there are some very friendly Fox Squirrels that hang out around the dealership. Some of the employees must feed them, because they’re quite bold about approaching and begging. I’ll have to remember to bring some noms for them next time.

    1. I used to see tiny green tree frogs regularly here in Jax, FL. At one job I had in the early ’90s, I sometimes saw them on the outside of a 5th story window. Also saw them in various places around my yard, including once in my mailbox, although the nearest body of water to my home is the St. Johns River about a mile away, and that stretch of the river is a very much built up, industrialized region, not the sort of area you’d likely see much wildlife in, aside from crows hanging out on the telephone lines, etc. Quite a few toads hung out in my yard and on my doorsteps too. Alas, have only rarely seen either the frogs or toads in the last 7 years or so, perhaps because NE FL is getting less rain than in the early ’00s when I moved into my present home.

  10. Re: the squirrel – I grew up in Saskatchewan and traveled extensively through the Prairie Provinces as a child as my parents were avid campers. Until I moved to Ontario in my mid-20s I had no idea that we had those black squirrels in Canada.

    In the prairies we had the red squirrel, which I sometimes see in Ontario away from cities where the grey squirrel dominates (and probably eats the red squirrel as a snack).

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