Written by Joanna Klein
Romeo was made for love, as all animals are. But for years he couldn’t find it. It’s not like there was anything wrong with Romeo. Sure he’s shy, eats worms, lacks eyelashes and is 10 years old, at least. But he’s aged well, and he’s kind of a special guy.
Romeo is a Sehuencas water frog, once thought to be the last one on the planet. He lives alone in a tank at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Bolivia.
A deadly fungal disease threatens his species and other frogs in the cloud forest where he was found a decade ago. When researchers brought him to the museum’s conservation breeding center, they expected to find another frog he could mate with and save the species from extinction. But they searched stream after stream, and nothing.
Romeo, called the “World’s Loneliest Frog,” started sharing his feelings on Twitter. Things got desperate. He needed a match before he croaked, so last year conservation groups partnered to create a Match.com profile for him. People related to Romeo’s romantic struggles, and on Valentine’s Day last year, the company and his fans raised $25,000 to send an expedition team out to the cloud forest to find his Juliet.
Well, Juliet has been found, and Romeo soon will be a bachelor no more. From this story of star-crossed science and love, conservationists have great hopes. If all goes well when the two meet, their offspring will return to the wild. From there, time will tell if their habitat is preserved, the frogs avoid disease and their legacy continues.
And for all the lonely lovers searching for that special someone, Teresa Camacho Badani, a herpetologist at the museum who found Juliet, has another message: “Never give up searching for that happy ending.”
When the expedition team set out last year, historical records provided little help. Sehuencas, a region in Bolivia and the species’ namesake, was gone, replaced by a massive dam. Local guides took the team to pristine streams, but habitats that once hosted dozens of frog species were now frogless. And Romeo’s species is particularly elusive, living under rocks at high elevations and never leaving the water.
The search was cold, wet and taxing in the misty, overgrown forest. Near the end of one long day, the researchers were ready to give up, but rallied to search one last stream. That’s when Camacho Badani spotted a frog leaping from a waterfall into a pond.
She hustled to the spot where it landed, reached down and pulled up a Sehuencas water frog. This was Juliet. “Oh my God, I found it!” Camacho Badani screamed. The team later found four more specimens, a female and three males.
Although Juliet looks healthy, she is in quarantine for disease testing before she meets Romeo. “We don’t want Romeo to get sick on the first date,” Camacho Badani said. The two make a typical opposites-attract couple. Juliet is wild, energetic and doesn’t mind cameras that Romeo avoids. But they both like worms.
If the chemistry is there, the team hopes to reintroduce baby Romeos and Juliets to the wild. But first the researchers must keep the frogs healthy, learn more about how the pair combat the fatal fungus, better understand their habitat and build local support to protect them.
And before Juliet commits, Romeo will take down his dating profile, said Robin Moore, the team’s photographer, and communications director at Global Wildlife Conservation.
“It would have been easy to have given up and said that this frog was gone and lost,” Moore said. “Rather than telling this story, we could have been telling the story that Romeo’s the last of his kind.”