Update From the Field

We’re taking off on Monday for another two weeks studying the world’s highest frogs. This time, we’ll be joined by two hard-core field biologists from the US who are traveling around Peru on their honeymoon! I think they’re going to have their minds blown at how much life there is up on Mars…

We’ve successfully (i.e., collected lots of data every time, everyone who went up also came back down, no broken legs…) completed three 2-week visits to the field site.

Our first trip was in July, and it was a side-splitting giggle-fest while exploring the open pass above Laguna Sibinacocha for study ponds. Team Proranas had the pleasure of sharing high camp for a few days with a team collecting ice cores and snow samples from the surrounding peaks, and we enjoyed their company! The weather was sunny and we didn’t see any precipitation at all during the fieldwork. We collected water samples and set up time lapse cameras. We managed to find a few frogs despite the very cold night temperatures – the ponds remained frozen on their surfaces until 11 am or noon every day! We also found some old tadpoles, but no evidence of recent amphibian breeding activity. On a hike down the 600 ft high lateral moraine of Puka glacier (a major “no fall zone”) we saw tracks of the Andean cat (in Quechua: osqollo) and puma!

Frog Core

Team Proranas July. Yes, we’re going to make a calendar later. Come with us and you get your own month!


This is Paradise Pond. There be frogs.

Frog Core in action

Katy filtering glacial meltwater samples for stable isotope analysis.

August was a bit different…

Site D in August

Snow. Lots and lots of snow.

We hiked up to the field site with a veritable blizzard starting, spent the first two days in the tent wondering if the snow was going to stop, and then another day and a half in the tent waiting for the snow to melt enough to walk to the nearest set of ponds and collect data. It was COLD. The ponds remained frozen until 2 – 3 pm every day. Hiking over the pass (really any hiking at all) was really difficult through the snow that was drifted up to 3-4 feet high on the lee side of moraines (without snowshoes). We were pretty lucky to witness that incredible storm which was a very rare occurrence! And we still managed to find some frogs after the snow melted enough for us to get to the rocks.


This is the other half of Team Proranas August enjoying a few minutes of sun between rounds of snow.

Did I mention the snow?

Liolaemus lizard! They can freeze, you know...

Giovanni is the real herpetologist of Team Proranas…

September was different still. We had the most amazingly beautiful, warm-ish weather, and it was obvious that the weather is changing into the wet season. There was precipitation nearly every night (but unlike in August, it melted off by about 8 or 9 am every morning). The ponds were unfrozen by 9 am every day, even high on the pass! Runoff from the August storm’s snowmelt increased the water depth of most of our permanent ponds, and we sampled a huge number of new temporary ponds. Aaaand, we found these:

FROG EGGS!! The Pleurodema started reproducing during our trip.

Tadpole of the elusive and critically threatened Telmatobius, a high elevation specialist that’s been very hard-hit by the amphibian chytrid disease.

Finding frog eggs was super because one of the goals of the study is to understand how the phenology, or reproductive pattern, of the frogs is tied to the glacial and seasonal hydrological changes at the site. Observing reproduction is key! Finding Telmatobius marmoratus tadpoles was fantastic because we’re very interested to know if there are still breeding adults at this site. They may have been all killed of by the deadly chytrid fungal disease. These tadpoles are old, so it’s not definitive evidence that there are still adults there, but it does give me hope! Many adult Telmatobius were infected with the chytrid disease and died in the early 2000’s – we hope to see the population recover.

Well, I’m not sure what crazy things we’ll see in October but I know it will be a lot of fun and hard work! I expect to see more precipitation and maybe even some thunder-snow. We’re going to have the world’s highest Halloween party and trick-or-treating. Check back in two weeks!

Here are some of the other things we’ve seen and done in the last three months in the field.

Upper Ice Cave Lake in August. Not much of a lake.

Upper Ice Cave Lake in September. Now it’s a lake, thanks to all that snowmelt from August and the warming temperatures.

I’m holding a nest that has fallen out of the end of the Puka glacier. It’s probably a Diuca finch nest.

Collecting superficial skin swabs from Telmatobius tadpoles!

Say hola to my little lizard friend!

Flamingos in Sibinacocha

The first frog eggs!

Deer skull? Vicunha? Mammologists, please help. Look at those canine teeth! Namesake skeleton of Skeleton Pond.


Pleurodema marmoratum is the star of the show.

Osqollo track! We camp under Nevado Osqollo Ananta, which in Quechua means “a place where you can see Andean cats.”

Wallatas, Andean geese.

Master arriero Felipe and his son William loading up our gear for the hike to high camp.

Hiking from Murmurani to high camp.

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