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ECU graduate students Evan Twomey and Jason Brown are returning to the Peruvian rainforest for additional study of a rare poisonous frog they rediscovered last summer. (Contributed photo)

Students Research Rare Frogs in Peruvian Rainforest

By Erica Plouffe Lazure

Two East Carolina University graduate students whose rediscovery of a poisonous frog made the pages of “National Geographic” this month will return to the Peruvian rainforest to learn more about it.

ECU students Evan Twomey and Jason Brown leave this month to continue their field research of the frog, Dendrobates captivus, which had last been documented in 1924. Their photos and findings appear in the April 2007 magazine.

“There only had been a few museum specimens collected in the 1920s. Nobody had tried to find them since then,” said Twomey, 24, a graduate student in ECU biology department.

For the past three years, Twomey and Brown have been assisting ECU biology professor Kyle Summers in the Cainarachi Valley in northern Peru. Summers received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study frogs in this region. While doing fieldwork for Summers, the students had heard about the rare frog and with help of local guides and a Peruvian entomologist, they organized an expedition last summer to seek out the species on their own.

“Finding the frogs was complicated by the inaccessibility and the native tribes that live there,” said Brown, 26, a Ph.D. student in ECU’s Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Biological Sciences. He credited their success to the Peruvian entomologist, Manuel Miranda, who had visited the region several times and had already established a rapport with the tribe.

“If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have even tried,” Brown said.

They traveled several days by boat, encountering water rapids, into one of the most remote and untraveled regions in Peru. After obtaining permission from the somewhat hostile Aguarunas tribe to travel in their territory, Twomey and Brown found the frogs in abundance.

The frog is about one-half inch long, colored black with red, yellow and orange spots. It is poisonous to predators, but not to humans. They observed and recorded the frogs’ habitat, mating calls, and life cycles. They are now in the process of obtaining permits from the Peruvian government to take tissue samples of the frogs and do more extensive lab research with the aim of publishing their findings.

Summers said he was concerned about the remoteness of the region in which the students traveled, but was proud of their rediscovery of the frog.

“As a scientific research supervisor and advisor, one always wants to see students take initiative on their own and make new discoveries,” Summers said. “On the other hand, in this kind of work, there is always an element of risk, and that is certainly of concern to me as I worry about the health and safety of my students.”

12/5/06
This page originally appeared in the April 27, 2007 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at http://www.ecu.edu/news/poe/Arch.cfm.