Following Darwin’s frogs in Europe!

An update from EDGE Fellow Claudio Soto-Azat

Darwin’s frogs (Rhinoderma darwinii and R. rufum) are two endangered amphibians species only known from the temperate native forests of central and Southern Chile. These are the only amphibians, within the > 6,600 species, which has developed a unique strategy of parental care. Males are able to ingest their recently hatched tadpoles into a specialized structure, known as the vocal sac, and take care from 1 to 19 developing tadpoles for a period of around five to six weeks. Along with seahorses (genus Hippocampus), these are the only organisms of the animal kingdom where males are able to get “pregnant” and therefore take care of their developing offspring and release small replicas of the adults.

Male Southern Darwin's frog

During August 2010, I decided to follow Darwin’s frogs to Europe. How? You may ask. This is, because in some European museums are found the largest collections of archived Darwin’s frogs. Therefore, I examined hundreds of individuals kept at the Natural History Museum in London, Alexander Koenig Museum in Bonn and the Museum of Zoology in Hamburg. The individuals examined were originally collected from 1835 to 2007, and included some of the frogs collected by Charles Darwin itself, while in southern Chile, during his epic voyage in the HMS Beagle under the command of Captain Fitz Roy. These specimens brought to Europe, allowed the French zoologists André Marie Constant Duméril y Gabriel Bibron in 1841 to describe the species for the first time and give its name, R. darwinii, in honour to the famous British naturalist. We were able to identify (and re-classify) over 50 new individuals of the northern Darwin’s frog (R. Rufum), finding which increase the current knowledge of this potentially extinct frog.

Southern Darwin's frogs


Northern Darwin's frogs

While at the Alexander Koenig Museum – Bonn, I was received by Dr. Klaus Busse, one of the most knowledgeable persons about Darwin’s frogs. Klaus successfully kept R. darwinii at the Alexander Koenig Museum for 20 years, until all frogs died in 2004 and 2007 possibly from chytridiomycosis. Thanks to his knowledge, now in Chile there are two projects which are successfully breeding Darwin’s frogs at University of Concepción and National Zoo of Chile.

Dr Klaus Busse and Claudio Soto-Azat

We took a non-invasive skin sample from all individuals, and analyzed them at the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, in order to study the historic presence of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) infection (causing chytridiomycosis) in Darwin’s frogs. I also learnt techniques to isolate and culture Bd in the laboratory. I will try to implement these in our laboratory of Ecosystem Health, to complement our chytridiomycosis studies in Chile.

By the end of this successful month of research abroad, I participated in the Third Biennial Ecohealth Conference: “Global Ecohealth Challenges; Multiple Perspectives”, held at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. This meeting brought more than 200 people from all parts of the world, including: scientists, conservationists, activists and policy makers, which discussed for 3 days different aspects on ecology, animal and human health, social justice, etc. In this important meeting I gave the talk: “An invasive frog and endemic threatened amphibians: impacts of chytridiomycosis in Chile”.

This was a very successful research month where I was able to raise concern on Darwin’s frogs conservation and I could gather important information for the research I lead.


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  1. Victoria said,

    on October 16th, 2010 at 3:43 am

    It’s a very good article.Thanks for sharing.

  2. Onur Ustun said,

    on October 17th, 2010 at 11:44 am

    This is amazing!! And i have been to Koenig Museum, it was an amazing place:) The animals just looked like alive!!

  3. jhon brack said,

    on October 26th, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    really intersting

  4. roni stamp said,

    on November 15th, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    nice article it was amazing reading for me.
    this animals looks like real in the pic!

  5. yuri said,

    on December 3rd, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Really cool,
    Your articles really interesting site.

  6. Jaffrezic said,

    on March 6th, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Hello M.Soto-Azat,
    Congratulations for taking care of these rare and precious frogs.
    During a trip in Chile in 2005 I took photographs of a darwin frog in the region of Los Angeles.
    If you think these photos are important, I can send them to you. Please contact me by e-mail.

  7. on April 4th, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Dear EDGE blog readers,

    Many many thanks for all yor comments. One of the objectives of the blogs are to be read by as many people is possible. This article has been very well welcomed, thus, encourage me to write a new one. Also, makes people get in contact, I already had the chance to communicate with Olivier Jafrezic from France, and he contributed with interesting information for the project. I will write a new blog soon, and I hope you enjoy it, as the others. All the best,


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