|Mountain Chicken Frog Project logo|
I’ve been volunteering with the Mountain Chicken Project through the Forestry, Wildlife, and Parks Department of the Government of Dominica. The project is a collaboration between the Government of Dominica, the Zoological Society of London, and the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species.
Over the past month, I have helped care for the frogs in the Captive Breeding and Research Facility housed in the Botanic Gardens. I’ve also gone with the team twice a week in the field to monitor the remaining wild frogs. The team has been really welcoming to me, and I’ve had so much fun contributing to this important work in protecting this species. In honor of these amazing critters, and in the vein of trading interesting animal info, I’ve put together the following:
Fun Facts about the Mountain Chicken!
First off: what are mountain chickens?
- Names can be deceiving. Similarly to how Dominica is NOT the Dominican Republic, the mountain chicken is NOT a bird. It is a frog!
- This frog goes by many names:
- Crapaud (Kwapo in Creole language)
- Giant Ditch Frog
- White-lipped Frog
- and most reliably: Leptodactylus fallax
- Mountain chickens are so called because they were once a prominent food source. The meat of their long, well-muscled legs purportedly tastes like chicken!
Where do mountain chickens live?
- Mountain chickens have been extirpated (made locally extinct) from most of their former range. Previously found throughout most of the West Indies on the islands of Dominica, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and Antigua, mountain chickens are now only found on Montserrat and Dominica.
- Mountain chickens don’t exactly live in the mountains. Although their range is much reduced now to pockets along the west coast of Dominica and central Montserrat, they typically live in forests, gardens, and plantations between sea level and 400 meters above sea level.
- These frogs are terrestrial (live on land) and are territorial. They are mostly nocturnal.
What do they look like?
|wild mountain chicken|
caught for a few minutes during field work
to test for chytrid and measure size
- Big! The mountain chicken is the second largest frog species in the world! Some adults reach 20 centimeters from snout to extended toe and weigh up to 900 grams. (That’s nearly 8 inches and almost 2 pounds!)
- Mountain chickens are typically chestnut brown with dark brown or black spots and lines near their eyes, back and legs. When they are healthy, their bellies are milky white. You can tell males and femals apart at maturity because males have a black spur on their hind feet which helps them hang on during mating!
What do they sound like?
- The frogs call to each other through a whooping call and a bark-like trill call.
- The calls can be heard up to 1 km away! (0.6 miles.)
- Males compete for females by defending territory. Males call from burrows in the ground to attract females.
I check for a nest in the Captive Breeding Facility.
- Mountain chickens are one of the only frog species in the world to actually parent their offspring! The male defends the foam nest containing tadpoles from would-be predators. Females return to the nest every 1-11 days and feed the growing tadpoles on unfertilized eggs she releases from her vent (a sort-of universal orifice on the frog’s backside). These eggs are the tadpoles’ only source of energy until they metamorphose into froglets and leave the nest!
- Mountain chickens typically make one nest per year. They do so during the wet season, when eggs are less likely to dessicate (dry up)!
What do they eat?
|cave crickets are tasty frog food|
- Mountain chickens are generally insectivores. They seem to mainly eat crickets and cockroaches, but may eat millipedes and slugs as well. Studies have found that each mountain chicken might consume over 100 insects per week!
- Hypothetically, if 10,000 mountain chickens used to live on Dominica (which is likely), then they were consuming over 1,000,000 insects every week! With only a tiny fraction of the mountain chicken population still alive, the ecology of the forests of Dominica is very likely dramatically different, since there are so many more insects alive! This has environmental and economical implications for the forests, farmers, and all inhabitants of the island!
- Mountain chickens can jump up to 2 meters in a single bound. They catch their prey by leaping on them and swallowing them whole!
|photo via www.lennoxhonychurch.com|
- Yes! The mountain chicken is featured on the Dominican coat of arms, alongside the Sisserou parrot, banana tree, and coconut tree.
- The mountain chicken was formerly the national dish of Dominica. (Since hunting is illegal, people are no longer allowed to eat mountain chickens.) Poaching may still occur.
- The mountain chicken is featured on logos of the National Bank of Dominica (nicknamed the Crapaud Bank) and other businesses.
- Many figures of speech mention the Crapaud:
- Crapaud smoke my pipe. (I'm not doing so well.)
- She has a waist like Crapaud. (to describe a slim woman)
- It is a familiar and beloved species in the hearts of many Dominicans.
Are mountain chickens endangered?
|Dominica's Captive Breeding Facility|
- Yes! Mountain chickens are critically endangered. This is the most dangerous classification, and is superceded only by extinction.
- Populations of mountain chickens suffer from overhunting and habitat loss, but the most harmful cause endangering these frogs is the fungal disease Chytridiomycosis.
- Commonly called Chytrid, this fungus infects the sensitive skin of amphibians. Since amphibians breathe through their skin, once infected, mountain chickens typically die within 48 hours of exposure. Chytrid is on the rise throughout Central America and the Caribbean, threatening many amphibian species.
- Researchers believe Chytrid arrived on Dominica in the late 1990s, possibly through imported produce or other goods. Chytrid spores may also be spread attached to soiled shoes or clothing, which is why we as researchers have to take extra precaution to not spread the disease between study sites. By 2002, upwards of 80-95% of the population died. People reported thousands of dead frogs to the Forestry Dept, and studies found Chytrid to be the major cause of death.
What can I do to protect the mountain chicken?
|the team at the Captive Breeding Facility |
works to protect mountain chickens
- Spread the word! Educate others about the importance of the mountain chicken ecologically, economically, culturally, and intrinsically! Teach your kids about mountain chickens. Inspire a love and sense of duty for nature and all her species! Spend time playing outside!
- Do NOT hunt, harvest, eat, collect, or move any mountain chickens you encounter!
- Report findings of mountain chickens to the Forestry Department by phone or email! Make note of the date, time, location, and any other pertinent information.
- Phone: (767) 266 3817
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Keep pets indoors, especially at night! Cats and dogs continue to kill the few mountain chickens left in the wild.
- Don’t spread Chytrid! Wash clothes and shoes often, especially if you have been to another island with Chytrid (most of them), or if you work in imports/exports. Efforts are also in motion to minimize the risk of Chytrid arriving on imported goods, especially produce which may carry stowaway tree frogs or other critters who can carry Chytrid but are unaffected by it.
- As scientists working directly with the frogs we take extra precautions. Some of the precautions we take:
- We wear latex gloves, and change gloves after handling any frogs, and when visiting a different room in the captive breeding facility or any field site.
- We also change clothes and shoes between working in the captive breeding facility or doing any field work, and must wash clothes and shoes before revisiting a site.
- We use a disinfectant called Virkon to wash shoes and materials like water bowls to prevent any spread of Chytrid.
- Support conservation efforts! Volunteer in a citizen science program. Contact your government and tell them conservation is important to you! Donate money to conservation projects! Educate yourself and others!
Here are some links if you wish to learn more:
- Mountain Chicken Project
- Wikipedia for Mountain Chicken
- Arkive Mountain Chicken Info
- BBC Mountain Chicken Footage
Let me know if you have questions or comments!
Thanks for hopping by! Haha, frog puns. Ahahaha.
Facts are from what I’ve learned as an intern at the Mountain Chicken Project under Alex Blackman and Machel Sulton, as well as from the Mountain Chicken Species Action Plan for Montserrat:
Martin, L., Morton, M.N., Hilton, G.M., Young, R.P., Garcia, G., Cunningham, A.A., James, A., Gray, G. and Mendes, S. (eds) (2007). A Species Action Plan for the Montserrat mountain chicken Leptodactylus fallax. Department of Environment, Montserrat.