Lemur leaf frog (Hylomantis lemur)
|Synonyms:||Agalychnis lemur, Phyllomedusa lemur|
|Size||Average body length: 3 - 4.5 cm (2)|
The lemur leaf frog is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).
A highly threatened amphibian from Central America, the lemur leaf frog (Hylomantis lemur) has a remarkable ability to change colour depending on whether it is active or resting (3).
When resting during the day, the slender lemur leaf frog is mostly bright green, speckled with small brown dots. Its hands, feet and flanks are yellow and its underparts are white. A thick black line surrounds each large, pale, pearly eye. The vertical pupils indicate the lemur leaf frog’s nocturnal lifestyle (4).
When active during the night, the upperparts of the lemur leaf frog turn brown, thus providing excellent camouflage (4). Its eyes also turn dark grey (3).
Individuals from different areas differ slightly from each other. The Panamanian form is generally larger than its more speckled Costa Rican cousin, and has a thicker black rim around the eyes (4).
The lemur leaf frog has a fragmented distribution in Costa Rica, Panama and northern Colombia (1).
Once considered to be relatively common in Costa Rica, the lemur leaf frog has disappeared from all but three sites (1). It is still considered to be reasonably common in eastern and central Panama, but numbers have declined in western Panama. The status of the Colombian population is unknown (1).
Like many other frogs, the lemur leaf frog lives in undisturbed humid rainforest, occurring in both montane and sloping lowland forest (1). It occurs at elevations of 440 to 1,600 metres above sea level (1).
The lemur leaf frog is mainly nocturnal, spending its resting hours curled up on leaves, perfectly camouflaged. At nightfall, its bright green colouration darkens to brown and the lemur leaf frog becomes active (4). An arboreal species, the lemur leaf frog walks around low vegetation in a deliberate, hand-over-hand manner (5).
The diet of the lemur leaf frog in the wild is not known, but is assumed to consist primarily of small invertebrates (6).
Breeding reportedly takes place during the rainy season, and the male lemur leaf frog produces a short clicking call to advertise to females (5). Like all leaf frogs, the lemur leaf frog lays between 15 and 30 eggs on leaves overhanging water. However, while many leaf frogs then wrap the leaf around the cluster of eggs, the lemur leaf frog does not (7).
About a week after the eggs have been a laid, the tadpoles hatch and drop into the water below (4). It then takes a further 90 to 150 days for the tadpole to develop into the adult frog (6). The higher the temperature of the water, the more rapid the growth and development of the tadpole will be (4).
Unusually for a frog, this diminutive species is able to bask in sunlight for prolonged periods of time without drying out. It is thought this is due to a specific pigment in the frog's skin, ‘pterorhodin’, which reflects the heat off its surface. This enables the frog to stay cool while its skin stays hot. Not only is this useful for an animal that spends most of the sunny hours lying inactive on the underside of a leaf, but it may also play a role in helping to defend this frog against chytridiomycosis, a fungal disease devastating amphibian populations worldwide (4) (8).
Chytridiomycosis is caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which infects the delicate skin of amphibians, thus interfering with their breathing and natural defences. It has been found previously that the chytrid fungus is much less infectious at higher temperatures (9). Other studies have also suggested that specific compounds found in the frog's skin as part of its normal defences may contribute to this species' relative resistance to infection by this killer fungus (10).
Despite the lemur leaf frog's relative resistance to chytridiomycosis compared to other frogs, the disease is still believed to be a major threat to this species and one of the main reasons for the steep decline in its population (1).
Habitat destruction is another immediate threat to the lemur leaf frog, as deforestation is ongoing within its range (1).
As a result of these threats, the lemur leaf frog only survives in a few known pockets of remaining habitat (1).
Some of the locations in Panama where the lemur leaf frog has been known to occur are within protected areas, but the remaining Costa Rican populations are unprotected (1).
A number of zoos are currently part of an effort to conserve the lemur leaf frog ex-situ. In 2001, the Atlanta Botanical Garden successfully bred the lemur leaf frog in captivity and has transferred frogs to other zoos and aquariums to expand the programme (1). On the other side of the Atlantic, the Manchester Museum in the UK has played a similar role, breeding a stock of lemur leaf frogs which have been transferred to other organisations, such as Bristol Zoo (4).
Find out more about amphibian conservation:
IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group:
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- Arboreal: an animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
- Ex-situ: measures to conserve a species that occur outside of the natural range or habitat of the species. For example, in zoos or botanical gardens.
- Invertebrates: animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- Montane: of mountains, or growing in mountains.
- Nocturnal: active at night.
IUCN Red List (June, 2011)
- Conlon, J.M., Woodhams, D.C., Raza, H., Coquet, L., Leprince, J., Jouenne, T., Vaudry, H. and Rollins-Smith, L.A. (2007) Peptides with differential cytolytic activity from skin secretions of the lemur leaf frog Hylomantis lemur (Hylidae: Phyllomedusinae). Toxicon, 50: 498-506.
- Henderson, C.L. (2010) Mammals, Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
- Gray, A. (May, 2011) Curator of Herpetology, Manchester Museum. Pers. comm.
- Reid, F.A., Leenders, T., Zook, J. and Dean, R. (2010) The Wildlife of Costa Rica. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
Skelton, T. (2011) Husbandry Guidelines for Hylomantis lemur. Amphibian Ark, Apple Valley, Minnesota. Available at:
- Jungfer, K.H. and Weygoldt, P. (1994) The reproductive biology of the leaf frog Phyllomedusa lemur Boulenger, 1882, and a comparison with other members of the Phyllomedusinae (Anura: Hylidae). Revue Française d’Aquariologie, 21: 57-64.
Morrelle, R. (2008) Sun-loving frogs aid fungus fight. BBC News, 24 June. Available at:
- Berger, L., Speare, R., Hines, H.B., Marantelli, G., Hyatt, A.D., McDonald, K.R., Skerratt, L.F., Olsen, V., Clarke, J.M., Gillespie, G., Mahony, M., Sheppard, N., Williams, C. and Tyler, M.J. (2004) Effect of season and temperature on mortality in amphibians due to chytridiomycosis.Australian Veterinary Journal, 82(7): 31-36.
- Woodhams, D.C., Voyles, J., Lips, K.R., Carey, C. and Rollins-Smith, L.A. (2006) Predicted disease susceptibility in a Panamanian amphibian assemblage based on skin peptide defenses. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 42(2): 207-218.