People banded together to find the world's loneliest frog true love — and it might have just worked.
Photo by Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation.

Perhaps the story of Romeo and Juliet doesn’t have to end in tragedy after all.

At least not for the frogs who go by the same names as those famous star-crossed lovers.  

Still, avoiding a tragic ending for these special frogs hasn’t been easy. The species almost went extinct forever.


Romeo is a Sehuencas water frog (Telmatobius yuracare), an aquatic species unique to the cloud forests of Bolivia, that for the last decade, was known as the “world’s loneliest frog.”

He had been living all alone in an enclosure at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Bolivia. A team of scientist had brought him into captivity in 2008 with the hopes of creating a conservation breeding program for his species because they were witnessing amphibian population crashes in the region due to a deadly pathogen called chytrid, habitat loss, pollution and climate change.  

“The decline in this species was sudden and somewhat unexpected,” explains Christopher Jordan, the Central America and Tropical Andes Coordinator for Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC). “By the time biologists realized there was a problem, the species was already very difficult to find.”

Photo by Thiago Garcia.

In the 10 years since  Romeo’s capture in the wild, no biologist was able to find a single other Seheuncas water frog in the wild. They began to fear that Romeo was the last living member of his species.

For years, Romeo called out for a mate from his enclosure. Then in 2017, he stopped. Fearing he’d lost hope, his museum caretakers knew they had to try and do something.

So in February 2018, just before Valentines Day, GWS, Match and the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative launched an international campaign (along with a Match profile and a Romeo twitter account) to raise $15,000 for scientific expeditions into the Bolivian cloud forests to make a desperate search for a girlfriend.

And it worked.

People all over the world fell in love with Romeo and rallied to help save his species. Romeo became a local star in his hometown of Cochabamba — and around the world too.

Before long, the campaign raised $25,000 from people in more than 32 countries — enough to fund several field expeditions.

And as soon as the Bolivian rainy season began (when the frogs are more likely to be spotted swimming in streams), a team of researchers embarked on their first search expeditions. They spent whole days scouring rivers and streams, then camped overnight in the cold, rainy forests.

And then finally, they found frogs.

Juliet with Teresa Camacho Badani.

To be precise, they found five: three males and two females.

“I could not believe it,” says Teresa Camacho, the leader of these expeditions who is also head of the herpetology department at the Natural History museum where Romeo calls home. “Seeing one of these frogs in the wild after 10 years was wonderful — even more so after having seen Romeo alone for so long.”

Back at the museum, the team built special habitats for their new residents and began monitoring them carefully before introducing them to Romeo.

They have to make sure that these frogs haven’t been exposed to the deadly disease that has wiped out much of the species and that they are healthy.  “We want to make sure that nothing we do harms the frogs at the Museum and will thus [we] take every precautionary measure necessary before introducing Romeo and Juliet.”

But so far, says Teresa, “Romeo’s friends are doing well and eating well” and they plan to keep all of Romeo and Juliet’s supporters updated on when the romantic meeting will happen and how it goes.

The team still has four remaining expeditions ahead in search of more frogs — but their success so far is great news for the species.

The plan is to try to learn as much as possible about the distribution of the species, their ecology and whether frogs are developing a resistance to disease. They also plan to launch a conservation breeding program if they can get Romeo and Juliet to mate, which will hopefully result in a reintroduction program for the species.

Of course, there is still a lot of research and work that needs to be done before they get to that stage, but finding the frogs has given new hope to the scientists.

“In the context of the current mass extinction that we humans are causing worldwide,” says Christopher Jordan, “Romeo and Juliet constitute a beacon of hope that show us that there is still time to protect the amazing diversity of life that we share with this planet."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less