New population of Darwin’s frogs discovered

A second update from EDGE Fellow Claudio Soto-Azat.

Darwin’s frogs are two species of endangered anurans endemic to the native template beech forests of Central and Southern Chile. Southern Darwin’s frogs (Rhinoderma darwinii) were discovered by Charles Darwin during his expedition around the world, in February 1835 near the city of Valdivia, Southern Chile. Northern Darwin’s frogs (R. rufum) were discovered by Rodulfo Philippi in 1902, in Lake Vichuquén, Central Chile. Both species used to have a sympatric area of distribution near the city of Concepción.

Map of Chile

As part of our research activities since 2008, we undertake expeditions from Santiago to Coyhaique (see map) in order to relocate any surviving population of the elusive Northern Darwin’s frog. The last sign of a male individual was recorded in 1980 near the city of Concepción. Since then, no individual has been observed. During these 3 years we have been unsuccessful, but we will continue our efforts to relocate the species. We have also been locating and monitoring different populations of the Southern Darwin’s frog, and sampling them, as well as other sympatric anurans to test them for signs of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) infection, agent responsible for cause of the amphibian deadly disease: chytridiomycosis.

Rosy ground frog

So far all populations surveyed have been characterized by small population size and covering tiny areas. During our last expedition, while at a remote area of Southern Chile we were searching for new populations of Southern Darwin’s frogs. We were walking through pristine forest, with the most amazing landscapes, changing quickly from marine environment, wetlands and forest.

As we started to penetrate the forest, we started to hear the unmistakable call of a male Darwin’s frog. As we got deeper in the forest, calls were more common and heard closer and closer. Until a moment, when we reached a clear spot and we discovered we were surrounded by Darwin’s frogs. I and my student, Andrés Valenzuela, were lucky to attend the most beautiful concert of Darwin’s frog’s calls. The intensity of activity was so strong, as I could not imagine before. I am just thinking, this is how they naturally behave when populations are healthy, and probably both species showed this spectacle in the areas where they lived in the past. As Charles Darwin said when he first saw the species: “It inhabits thick and gloomy forests, and is excessively common in the forest of Valdivia”. We stayed in this area, over the next 3 days, time where we recorded behaviour, took videos and photos, and sampled frogs for the presence of chytrid. Laboratory results will tell us if this is a chytrid-free population or not. What we discovered with this part of the expedition, is probably the largest surviving populations of R. darwinii. We have got funding to ensure their protection and to study them over the next years. This finding gives us a hope we can succeed in the conservation of southern Darwin’s frogs.

Darwin's frog


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  1. on November 26th, 2010 at 6:52 am

    That is such a cool looking frog. Glad to see you’re able to protect these little fellas.

  2. on April 4th, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Dear friend,

    Many thanks for your comments. As you mention this is a formidable species, unique among all 6,600 amphibian species. With a strong work and commitment from the government and general public we will be able to protect this species.

  3. Cesar Cuevas said,

    on July 1st, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Estimado Claudio Felicidades!! En el año 1996 me ocurrió algo similar en una visita a la localidad de Melymollu. De pronto al entrar a una casa a realizar una encuesta vi que algo salto delante mío en el jardín de la casa. Grande fue mi sorpresa cuando, vi muchos R. darwinii por todas partes y en practicamente en todas las casas, la pequeña plaza de juegos, etc. Un paraíso para un ranólogo. Lamentablemente, después de varias visitas y observaciones con Marty Crump y el profesor Veloso, la ultima oportunidad en que fui, no encontré ni uno solo. Tristemente, además me di por enterado (casi en forma agresiva de parte de un poblador del pequeño poblado que allí existe) que se nos culpaba a nosotros de la desparaición de las Rhinodermas del lugar. Siempre me pregunto si estas ¿Habrán reaparcedio nuevamente?. Una tarde que estuvimos allá en el año 2000 con Marty, después de una llovisna, era impresionante el canto de los Rhinodermas, a veces incluso sonaba hasta lastimoso…y triste. OJalá haya sido solo un evento pasajero, y esa población se encuentre bien….

  4. Claudio Soto said,

    on July 23rd, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Estimado Cesar,

    Gracias por tus comentarios. Estoy al tanto de los estudios de realizados en 1998-2000, por ustedes en Melimoyu. Lamentablemente en visitas recientes en 2009 y 2011, no hemos encontrado poblaciones, mas solo un par de individuos. Es bastante extraño e interesante, y al menos nuestro equipo busca dilucidar las causas por las cuales esta situación pueda estar ocurriendo en un ambiente aparentemente no perturbado. Nos mantenemos en contacto, un abrazo,


  5. Pallavi Gaur said,

    on May 23rd, 2013 at 9:25 am

    How many Darwin’s Frog are there on the Earth Now?

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