March 9, 2021

The Balsa de los Sapos, the Ecuadorian center that studies 70 types of frogs

A scientific laboratory in Ecuador has been seeking, for 15 years, to play a leading role in Latin America in terms of conservation and research of 70 amphibian species: it is the Raft of the Toads and houses more than 1,500 specimens.

This is the oldest laboratory of amphibians in Latin America and has served for other small initiatives in Peru or Colombia to see the light, since the region that brings together this trio of countries -together with Brazil- is the one with the greatest diversity of frogs and toads has on the entire planet.

According to Santiago Ron, curator of amphibians at the Museum of Zoology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE), the idea of ​​this initiative is "on the one hand, to play a conservation role for species that are in danger of extinction, but we are also very interested in the research topic ".

The Balsa de los Sapos was born in 2005 after the success of an exhibition in the PUCE in which, for the first time, the diversity of amphibians in Ecuador became known, which caused a feeling of admiration and surprise among the public assistant and promoted the creation of this laboratory.

At present, more than 1,500 specimens of frogs and toads of 70 species coexist in this space, some as emblematic as the Pacman frog, the largest one that houses the laboratory and with a curious morphology that camouflages it in its habitat, or Glass frogs, whose males are responsible for taking care of the eggs.

Among the songs of the frogs, the administrator of the Raft, Freddie Almeida, works to feed them, clean their terrariums and moisten their environment.

"Most of all, thanks to this project, we have been able to know a lot about the ecology of many individuals that were not known about, how they reproduce, what they feed on," he told Efe while a cricket – the favorite food of the frogs – I was running the robe.

In fact, he laughed how, more than once, when he went out for lunch, people stared at him on campus without him explaining very well why: "You were wondering what it would be, and that was that you were with the cricket in the shoulder of a pet. "

Along its narrow corridors, overcrowded shelves with terrariums that inhabit the more than a thousand and a half frogs come out, showing the great amphibiological variety that Ecuador has, with different species depending on their geographical location: the largest belonging to lower areas (Amazonia and coast) and the smallest that inhabit the Andean highlands.

Among them, stand out the monkey frogs, some funny nightlife batrachians that have striking colors, or the family of the Jambato frogs, which were believed extinct until 2016, when researchers managed to locate some specimens that are now being conserved and analyzed in the Raft.

"From what the Raft of the Toads does, science and research of first level is generated", commented Ron with pride.

And is that, among many other investigations, in this laboratory are studying the effects of the secretions of the skin of some frogs in the fight against cancer cells or how can be passed from a unicellular and simple organism, as is the egg of these batrachians, to a complete organism with billions of cells in its adult stage.

La Balsa has also been an example to follow for many other initiatives throughout the world, since it has become "one of the largest conservation and research programs of amphibians, not only in Ecuador, but also in Latin America. and even worldwide, "according to Ron.

Thanks to the workshops and lectures that have been given in the laboratory and to the training received by some scientists who now have their own research centers, this initiative has expanded, playing "a very important role" in the education of the region in this matter.

It has also helped to build collaborative relationships with other Amazonian countries, where there is an abundance of amphibians, especially with Colombia and Peru.

"We currently maintain collaborations with amphibiologists from both countries, something that is very important considering that many species are shared and this collaborative work is important to do research that is exhaustive enough to be valid and published in scientific journals of the same level" , assured the expert.

All this with the intention that, in the future, these frogs can return to their natural habitat, provided that the authorities-educated for it-know how to avoid being threatened again.

Christian A. Sánchez

(tagsToTranslate) Balsa (t) Toads (t) center (t) Ecuadorian (t) studies

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