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A red eye tree frog, or red-eyed tree frog — scientific name Agalychnis callidryas — is a strikingly colorful little nocturnal inhabitant of the rainforests of South America and Central America, as well as southern Mexico. A tree dweller, it is characterized by its huge, shockingly red eyes, bright neon green body, and red or orange feet. The sides of the red eye tree frog are sky blue marked by brilliant yellow stripes, and its underbelly and legs are bright blue. Each toe pad on the red eye tree frog is a tiny suction cup, and these creatures are excellent jumpers, living most of their lives in the trees. This small animal is so adept in the canopies that it is nicknamed the monkey frog.
The female red eye tree frog grows to about 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in length. Males are slightly smaller at 2 inches (5 cm). The red eye tree frog is carnivorous, eating virtually anything that will fit in its mouth, including crickets and other insects, and even smaller frogs.
Red eye tree frogs reproduce in the rainy season, October through March. Male frogs begin the process by quivering and croaking, often in unison, attempting to attract a mate. Males will often fight over territories, knocking each other off of branches.
Once a female is located, several males might mount her back. The female must carry all the males around, sometimes for a day or longer, during which time some or most of the males might fall off. When the female is ready, she will lay the eggs, called a clutch, on the underside of a leaf that overhangs a pond or stream. She must do so while supporting the weight of at least one male on her back, and sometimes several. As she lays the eggs, the male inseminates them.
After laying the eggs, the female must enter the water to refill her bladder so that her next clutch is not dry. Again the male remains attached while she takes her swim, but often other frogs will fight over the female. When the female emerges from the water she may have a different male attached. The new male will fertilize her next clutch.
Tiny tadpoles develop inside the egg clutch. Once mature, they will swim vigorously until the egg sack breaks. Water in the sack washes them down the leaf until they plop into the water below where they will develop into froglettes over the next 75 to 80 days. When the little frogs emerge, they will be brown, but will soon develop their characteristic coloring.
It is generally believed that the bright coloring of the red eye tree frog, called startle coloration, is a defense mechanism against predators. When the frog is asleep during the day with its legs tucked and eyes closed, it blends perfectly into the leaves on which it sits. If something should disturb it or it senses danger, however, opening it large red eyes or flashing color from its sides could startle a predator for the split second it takes for the agile little frog to leap to safety. Some believe the bright colors might even leave a residual image in the predator's vision.
The red eye tree frog is such a colorful little fellow that it has become an iconic ambassador for the campaign to save the rainforests. Though the frog itself is not in danger, its habitat is shrinking at an alarming rate. Conservationists hope the dazzling red eye tree frog will remind people of the amazing creatures our rainforests hold, and the importance of preserving these wild habitats, not only for people today but for generations to come.