Madagascar’s Mantellas or Golden Frogs (Family Mantellidae) are, in many ways, the ecological equivalents of Latin America’s Poison Frogs (Family Dendrobatidae), and illustrate nicely the concept of convergent evolution – unrelated animals from different parts of the world that have developed similar adaptations. Although less commonly kept than the poison frogs, these tiny, brilliantly-colored gems are gaining in popularity. Following is a brief overview of the group.
Range and Diversity
Mantellas are found only on Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa, and are unique enough to warrant their own family, Mantellidae. Sixteen species have been described thus far, but that number will almost certainly increase as the group is studied more closely. Nearly all are exceptionally colorful – more so than the better known Poison Frogs (Dendrobates spp.) in many cases.
Similarities to Poison Frogs
Both Mantellas and Poison Frogs are small, brightly-colored, diurnal (active by day), and usually make little attempt to conceal themselves. All forage on land or in trees, are protected by virulent skin toxins, exhibit complex breeding behaviors, and lay eggs in on land.
Mantella reproductive strategies roughly follow those of the Poison Frogs. Males call during the day from exposed sites on land – light markings on the vocal sacs may serve as a visual stimulus to females. They wrestle for dominance, with the loser being flipped onto his back but otherwise unharmed. Ten to thirty eggs, which are fertilized externally, are deposited in nests below leaf litter.
Tadpole development has been little studied; those which have been researched hatch in 2-7 days and wriggle or are washed by rain to temporary pools and brooks. They feed upon algae and decaying plants and animals, and transform into frogs in 6-8 weeks. Sexual maturity is attained in 12-14 months.
Mantellas in the Terrarium
Mantellas may be kept in much the same manner as most poison frogs but, being even smaller, they are a bit harder to feed. A source of springtails, fruit flies and pinhead crickets is a must.
Despite their diminutive statures, Mantellas are efficient predators with quite large appetites – a 1.8 inch long Bronze Mantella (Mantella betsilio) was observed to consume 53 ants in just 30 minutes!
A review of the status of the various mantellas and the CITES proposal for their protection is posted here.