Romeo, the world’s loneliest frog, finds his Juliet

Romeo, the Sehuencas water frog, was believed to be the last of his kind, having spent the last 10 years alone in an aquarium. Now, scientists have finally found him a mate during an expedition to the remote Bolivian Cloud Forest.

The lone male has been waiting patiently at the Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Bolivia while scientists searched for other members of his species. Chief of Herpetology at the Museum, Teresa Camacho Badani, led the expedition that resulted in the discovery of five Sehuencas water frogs.

At that point we were exhausted after searching all day with no results. We looked for the frogs in streams that had the perfect conditions, but we didn’t see any species of frogs. The entire team was wet and tired, but we decided to look in one more stream before returning to the camp. We weren’t too hopeful but we took a chance anyway and after 15 minutes of searching, I saw a frog jump into a pond formed by the cascade.

At first believing it to be a different species, Teresa went to catch the frog only to realise they had finally found the long-awaited Sehuencas water frog.

My first reaction was to yell “I found one!” and the team came running over to help me and pull the frog to safety. It was an incredible feeling! The smile I have in the pictures expresses the happiness and full emotion we felt at that moment. That first one was a male, which assured us that it was only a matter of time before we’d find Juliet.

The pressure is now on to establish a captive breeding programme in order to hopefully bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

Searching the streams. Credit: Stephane Knoll, Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny

A Lonely Frog

The Sehuencas (pronounced “say-when-cuss”) water frog (Telmatobius yuracare) is endemic to Bolivia and was once abundant in streams, rivers and ponds across the montane cloud forests.

Like many amphibians, the species has suffered a dramatic decline as a result of habitat degradation, climate change, pollution, invasive species and disease.

Romeo was captured in the field by a team of biologists in 2008 and brought into captivity with the aim of setting up a breeding programme in an attempt to save his species. However, after multiple attempts to find him a mate, no other Sehuencas water frogs had been found.

The search to find a partner for Romeo was widely publicised last year when dating website Match launched a campaign to raise money for the expedition in time for valentines day. As part of the stunt they gave him his very own dating profile and managed to raise $25,000 to go towards the expedition to find him a mate.

Juliet with Teresa Camacho Badani. Credit: Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation

Searching For Juliet

The team spent months researching historical records of Sehuencas water frogs, looking at current threats to these areas and talking to locals – who did not recognise the species – to give them some ideas of where they were most likely going to find the frog.

It was on the second expedition, after spending many days searching, that they were finally successful. At first they found just one male but, feeling confident that more would be in the area, they returned the next day and discovered another four frogs, including Juliet.

Saving The Species

Researchers have said that the newly discovered frogs will spend time in quarantine, so they can acclimatise to the new environment which is designed to replicate their habitat in the wild. They are also being treated for the fungal disease, chytridiomycosis, a notorious killer of amphibians and partially responsible for the decline of the species. Eventually, Romeo will be introduced to Juliet.

If the two don’t hit it off, the research team have said they will try different pairings between the 6 frogs until they find a match. If all else fails, eggs and sperm will be harvested from the frogs and they will attempt to breed them through in vitro fertilisation.

It is hoped that eventually, if the captive breeding proves to be a success, the frogs will one day be reintroduced to the wild.


References

Global Wildlife Conservation – Romeo, Oh, Romeo!

Global Wildlife Conservation – Lonely No More


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