Save the frog from the Mucuchies, lab mission

The Mucuchies frog, a little-known species from the remote Andean region, is endangered, but a project in Venezuela aims to save it with an ingenious method: artificial reproduction in a laboratory.

Discovered in 1985

Little is known about the habits of the Mucuchies frog, which averages two centimeters in length and is distinguished by thin light spots that dot its skin. It was only discovered in… 1985 by Enrique La Marca, now the head of the breeding project, which is part of the program of the Center for the Conservation of Venezuelan Amphibian Species (REVA). zippels aromaticfrom its scientific name, named after the American explorer Kevin Zippel, known for his protection of amphibians, is an endemic species of the Andean forest, a “paramo” biotope, a dry and mountainous environment characteristic of the Mukuchi region (Merida, West).

Mr. La Marcha, together with Reinhold Martinez and Janina Puente, leads the program, which began in 2018, which includes field research, breeding ex-situ and reintroduction into the wild. “A major problem affecting the last frog populations in the region is the over-extraction of water from the paramo lagoons, which is depleting aquifers (areas of water). “, notes Mr. La Marca.”The streams dried up and the amount of water produced by the springs decreased significantly. All this negatively affects organisms that are directly related to water.“, he adds.

BUT”very complex ecosystem

Mr. La Marca points out that Mucuchies’ frogis an integral part of a very complex ecosystem that has existed since this forest appeared“.”They prey on insects and invertebrates harmful to humans, such as mosquitoes and other disease vectors. They are also a food source for other species.“, he adds. Their declining population is a sign “disturbance of the forest ecosystem due to human interference“, laments the scientist, who is worried about the widespread deforestation in the area.

To avoid their extinction, the trio of researchers sought to breed them in captivity. Call: “We didn’t know what they eat, how they breed, we improvised and learned as we went.“, emphasizes Mr. La Marca. Breeding takes place in disinfected containers, where the habitat of the Mucuchies frog, which lays its eggs on dry leaves, is recreated. Plants such as bromeliads, for example, are placed in stones, dry leaves and a container with water that simulates a stream We feed the frogs with insects and larvae.”We have managed to reproduce this endangered species in captivity and thus implement a repopulation program.“, says Mr. La Marca, for whom the program is an important step forward in the conservation of all endangered amphibians.

Croaking, a sign of success

When we managed to breed the Mucuchies frog, it was very exciting because it was the first time that a species from this forest had bred in captivity.“, – he explains. – To fertilize the egg, “both genders must be involved. The male climbs and clings to the back of the female to fertilize the last laid eggs, releasing the sperm that will fertilize them.“. The male is responsible for taking care of the eggs.

Because of “high probability of extinction of the species in the natural environment“the goal is to keep assisted reproduction alive as long as possible because”most populations disappeared from the entire region fifteen to twenty-five years ago.“.”The release of individuals into the natural environment occurs approximately one year after the completion of their transformation from a tadpole to a four-legged frog.“, clarifies Mr. La Marca. After his release “the biggest challenge is to enable them to survive in the new environment they will face.“, – he said. Therefore, “we are proud to note (…) that the croaking on the site is more numerous, which indicates the re-breeding of frogs, but… in their environment“natural.

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