Toads, a town council and trouble

The Giant Chilean Toad, sometimes referred to as the Gay’s Frog  is endemic to Chile.  It’s an amiable monster of an animal, with adult females measuring over 50cm.  Like all amphibians the world over the population of this animal  has been declining at an alarming rate.


In the past this huge toad has been captured for eating as a local delicacy and many others exported as part of the international animal trade.


Nowadays the problem is even greater, one of habitat loss.  The toads’ range in central Chile overlaps with the richest land, land now brimming over with orange and lemon groves, plantations of peaches and nectarines and hillsides of vines for the finest Chilean wines, all these grown for the insatiatiable demand from UK and North American supermarkets.


One day the ‘Frog Squad’ had an urgent request to visit the town of Villa Alemana northwest of Santiago, where a population of these giant frogs were endangered and we were asked to join them.


We all met somewhat surreptitiously in a café to hear the story from a group of locals including a journalist, and teacher, who told us about some huge frogs that inhabited a stream that flowed through the town.


The animals  made a lot of noise, some people liked them, some not and others still thought the stream in which they lived was dirty and untidy, the locals were all in dispute about the situation, so the council decided to dredge the stream and ‘clean it up’.



Encuentro en un restaurante

Encuentro en un restaurant

Environmentally sympathetic individuals had spoken to officials, who seemed oblivious to the presence or welfare of the animals.


However local children liked the frogs, they thought the frogs were beautiful, remembering  that a far-away princess had even married one !


To the embarrassment of the local council the children ‘adopted ‘ a bridge over the stream and covered it with  images of nature and the frogs.



Frog squad 3


Mural pintado por ninos

Mural pintado por ninos


This is a common story the world over and one that we ourselves had experienced in our home town of Loughborough in England twenty years ago. In Loughborough  they wanted to dredge and channelize the Woodbrook stream, home to nesting kingfishers and bank voles.


In Loughborough then, as now in Villa Alemana, what was needed was a little pressure from the public, some publicity in the local press and some expert advice on how to solve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction.


The Frog Squad were to give the expert advice, but first they had to establish the presence and identification of the animals in danger.  So that night we went ‘frogging’.


The stream was in a deep cutting through the town.

El arroyo en Villa Alemana

El arroyo en Villa Alemana


We sploshed  and waded through the water, sometimes thick with vegetation.  There were lots of small native fish, this was clearly a rich habitat for the gentle giant as it requires extensive aquatic vegetation in which to breed.


Gradually as darkness descended we started to see the protruding eyes of these friendly ‘giants’.  They were secretive and hugged the overhangs of the banks. With wet feet and wetter arms we eventually caught one of the gentle giants and confirmed its identity,  a rare Chilean Giant Toad (Calyptocephalella gayi)

This giant has the most enormous protruding eyes and powerful legs.



Mira esos ojos !

Mira esos ojos !


We found a small  population of these wonderful creatures that evening and the Frog squad agreed to back the locals, so with that added scientific proof, hopefully the frogs will have their habitat safeguarded.


Their findings agreed with a report in a local newspaper.  The Frog Squad strikes again !



El peloton de ranas  al socorro

El peloton de ranas al socorro

In a country where environmental matters are secondary and the concept of  protecting ‘urban wildlife ‘ is almost unheard of,  it is a pleasure to witness local people actively concerned about their own wildlife.

Amphibian adventures

Frogs and toads are in deep trouble the world over.

A deadly Chytrid fungus has been decimating their numbers worldwide for a decade and continues unabated.  Habitat loss and ignorance of their importance has likewise further diminished their populations.

Chile has an impressive 57 species and most are severely threatened. We met up with a young trio of amphibian experts from the University of Santiago who are working to protect them, Ismael, Fernanda and Marta. We call them the ‘frog squad’.


Paula and the frog squad

Over the millennia the isolation of many Andean valleys promoted endemism.



Amphibians require a rare combination of unpolluted water and tranquil pools in which to lay their eggs.


frog eggs_


They are beset by many difficulties. The introduction of alien predators, such as the African Toad and fish for sport fishing, habitat loss from building of roads and ski resorts, but most of all the lack of unpolluted water.  Water is a scarce resource. Global warming is altering the rate of water flow off the Andean glaciers and the huge mining industry can easily pollute local supplies.

Some amphibian species take several years for the eggs and tadpoles to mature into breeding adults.


Tadpole  Sabo arriero

Using only the stars to guide us through the dead of night we and the Frog Squad would search high Andean streams and pools in the hope of finding these elusive creatures amid the slippery stones and boulders. Occasionally we would be rewarded with the discovery of a beautiful individual frog.

The Sapo de Rulo  (Rhinella arunco)  is one of the more common, but still endemic, species of Chilean frogs, the juvenile of which is spotted red.


Sapo De Rulo 1


In the Farellones valley we found the endangered Sapo De Pecho Espinoso De La Parva, known only from this one site.  The individual below has two rough pads  on its belly, showing it to be a male.


Sapo De Pecho Espinoso De La Pava


Some days later we visited the Rio Los Cipreses National Reserve. The steep sided mountains plunge down to the Rio Cipreses which itself is a tributary of the mighty Rio Cachapoal.



Los Cipressses N P_

Both these rivers are fed by glaciers high up in the Andes which are retreating at an alarming rate every year.


Confluence of the rivers Cachapoal and Cipreses.

In a marsh close to the river Cachapoal we found the small Arriero frog.  It is named because of its penetrating call which is similar to that made by a herdsman (“Arriero” in Spanish) when calling for his animals over the scrubby mountainsides.

The Arriero is a threatened species and is otherwise called the ‘four-eyed frog’ as it has two false eye patterns on its backside.


4 eyed frog


The evidence shows that all species of amphibians are declining rapidly in South America.

 Ismael, Fernanda and Marta are among a small group of experts in Chile.  Their work in understanding the ecology of the various species is vital, they are conservation heroes!