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The beautiful and extraordinary mossy frog

Hey y’all, I’m Ben from the Herpetology Department at Zoo Atlanta. Today, I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite frog species, Theloderma corticale or the Vietnamese mossy frog. Occasionally, in the zoo world, keepers travel to other zoological institutions to transport animals, learn about other facilities’ animals, or attend symposiums to learn about burgeoning topics in research and practices within the zoo field. Recently, I was lucky enough to encounter this species at another AZA facility while transporting some turtles from Zoo Atlanta.

To begin, I’ll briefly dive into the etymology of this species’ scientific name. The genus in question Theloderma, is derived from the latin prefix Thelo- meaning nipple and suffix -derma meaning skin. This is an aptly name genera, as one commonality of the frogs within this genus is their uniquely textured and bumpy skin. Anatomically, these bumps are known as “tubercles.” The species name corticale refers to resembling tree bark. While their scientific name suggests these frogs look akin to bark, I find this species’ common name to be much more accurate (although other related species do resemble bark or even bird poop). This fascinating frog species is distinctive because they look like patches of green moss found growing on tree bark or the forest floor. This mossy appearance functions as an incredible form of camouflage.

This species is found in mountainous rainforests in Laos and northern Vietnam. They thrive in high humidity environments and have adapted a semi-aquatic lifestyle. They often breed in tree hollows that have filled with water. The females will deposit their eggs above the waterline in these hollows or rock cavities. After a period of about two or three weeks, the eggs hatch, the newly hatched tadpoles will then fall into the water to eat, swim, and commence their development. Throughout the development of these tadpoles, they grow to an impressive size about the size of a small mouse. The longevity of this development is temperature dependent and may take anywhere from four to eight months. Once development is completed, the froglets will venture out into the surrounding forests to commence their adult life stage.

Once these beautiful frogs have ventured out into the primary rainforests of Vietnam and Laos, they embrace a nocturnal lifestyle. Behaviorally, these frogs often spend time during the day hiding under water or camouflaged as a mossy patch on a plant or rock. While the lifespan in wild habitats is not well documented, in zoological settings, they may live up to 15 years. During this adult life stage, these frogs will feast on various arthropods and males spend their nights calling out to females with a vocalization somewhat similar to an owl.

I hope y’all have enjoyed this blog and can see photos of this species or better yet, see them in person. While we do not currently house this amazing frog within our Herpetology Department, we hope to bring them here at some point so you can all see these incredible frogs for yourselves at Zoo Atlanta!

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