Counting eggs before they hatch

By Jeanne Tarrant, EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme Manager

The EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme is eggcited (!) to be expanding the reach of monitoring efforts for the Endangered Kloof Frog, Natalobatrachus bonebergi, which is a stream-dwelling frog, occurring in remnants of scarp and coastal forest between Durban and Dwesa-Cwebe in the Eastern Cape. Since much of this habitat has been destroyed in the past, most of the locations at which this species is found are in protected areas.

The Kloof Frog, named for both its choice of habitat and the area of its discovery (Krantzkloof) by a Father Boneberg from Marionnhill Monastery in 1912, is an extremely handsome frog, with an angular snout, and is supremely adapted to its riverine habitat with T-shaped digits for climbing and swimming. It is also sometimes called the Diving Frog because of its ability to dart away into the water.

The Endangered Kloof Frog, with its distinctive nose and toes
frog

The species is monotypic, meaning it is the only species in its genus, making it evolutionarily quite distinct, with its closest relatives the Moss Frogs from the Western Cape. Another unique feature of the species is how it lays its eggs – in distinctive clumps attached to either plants or rocks above quiet sections of stream. The eggs take between one and three weeks to develop into tadpoles and drop into the water below, where they then take about two months to metamorphose into froglets. The eggs are positioned anywhere between 20 and 120 cm above water, and the female who laid them stays nearby to protect them from predators and keep them moist. These egg clumps provide a convenient way to monitor the activity and presence of this species.

The distinctive egg clumps of the Kloof Frog can be laid on leaves, branches or rocks
eggs eggs2

In 2013, we developed monitoring plans for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for the Province’s threatened frog species. The method of egg clump counts for the Kloof Frog has been used at Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve on the South coast, by the very dedicated Honorary Officers at the reserve for the past two years.

In October 2015 we were able to roll out the method at four new areas: one in KZN, and three in Eastern Cape Parks reserves on the Wild Coast. Working with WESSA’s Eco-School Programme in Durban, we received an extremely enthusiastic response from Kloof Senior Primary School to conduct the method at the wonderful Crowned Eagle Conservancy (itself rescued from development in part due to the presence of the Kloof Frog). We introduced six girls from the school to the site and to the method on 20th October, with even the headmistress attending.
Kloof Senior Primary girls get their introduction to ‘Frogging’ at Crowned Eagle Conservancy.

frogging

A week later, I was extremely fortunate to travel to the beautiful Hluleka Nature Reserve near Port St John’s on the Wild Coast, where I was met by Brian Reeves, regional ecologist from Eastern Cape Parks, and Werner Conradie from Bayworld Museum, who discovered the species at the reserve in 2013. We were joined by 10 enthusiastic rangers from Hluleka, Silaka and Dwesa-Cebe, and spent the next two days searching for the frogs and their egg clumps and practicing the monitoring method.

frog monitoring2

It is really encouraging to see the uptake of this protocol in new areas and by such a range of people, demonstrating the value of Citizen Science in research and conservation.
At Hluleka and Silaka Nature Reserves with Eastern Cape Park rangers

Acknowledgements:
WESSA Eco-Schools – Christine Hugo
Crowned Eagle Conservancy – Mervyn & Clive George
Kloof Senior Primary – Janiene Halse (Eco-School co-ordinator)
Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism – Brian Reeves
Bayworld, PE – Werner Conradie

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