Harlequin mantella (Mantella cowani)

Also known as: Cowan’s mantella
GenusMantella (1)
SizeLength: 22 – 30 mm (2)

The harlequin mantella is classified as Critically Endangered (CR A2acd + B2ab(iii)) on the IUCN Red List 2004 and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).

This small, venomous frog is particularly striking, with red-orange spots on the limbs, contrasting with black skin. The underparts are dark with some light blue areas (3).

The harlequin mantella is found only on the high plateaus of east-central Madagascar between 1,000 and 2,000 m above sea level (1).

A terrestrial frog species, the harlequin mantella inhabits gallery forest, along streams. It may also be found in montane grassland savanna during the rainy season. It burrows during the dry season to avoid drying out (1).

Very little is known of the biology of the harlequin mantella. It lays around 40 whitish, spherical eggs in damp leaves or moss (2). Active mainly in the early morning, the harlequin mantella avoids bright sunlight and spends the hottest hours of the day vocalising from within deep crevices in rocks. The short single clicks of the harlequin mantella are said to sound like a cricket’s stridulation slowed down (3).

This striking frog has been massively over-exploited for the international pet trade. Populations have also declined following deforestation which has fragmented the harlequin mantella’s habitat. Remaining forest is still under threat due to the increase of subsistence agriculture, timber extraction, charcoal manufacture, livestock grazing, fires and human settlements (1). The combination of all these factors makes of the harlequin mantella the most threatened frog species of Madagascar (5).

The harlequin mantella is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which allows the trade, but with the requirement of an export licence. However, the Malagasy government has banned the exportation of this species, waiting for more detailed information on its biology (5).

For further information on the harlequin mantella:

Authenticated (07/02/2005) by Franco Andreone, Chair of DAPT/IUCN Madagascar.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2004)
  2. Amphibian Information Centre (July, 2010)
  3. Amphibiaweb (December, 2004)
  4. Andreone, F. (2005) Pers. comm.