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Fact/Fiction: Did online dating really help the world's loneliest frog?

Old news, truthfully retold. This week we take a look at the strange case of the world's loneliest amphibian

How it was told

It’s difficult enough to hop out into the dating world when there are plenty of fish in the sea, let alone when you’re the only frog of your species.

Romeo the Sehuencas water frog has been giving it big licks on his Twitter account and online dating site match.com since Valentine’s Day last year to find a mate, after conservationists were unable to find another identical frog in the wild for a decade.

The Daily Express were among news outlets that jumped on the story at the time, reporting “Urgent mission to find partner for world’s LONELIEST frog – ‘Romeo MUST find his Juliet!’”.

Last week, they also joined a rush of other outlets to report that his Juliet had been found with the article “Hope for endangered frogs as lonely Romeo FINALLY finds a mate after 10-YEAR search”.

The news sent Metro into an existential crisis as they opted for the headline: “Oh good, the world’s loneliest frog has found himself a date while we’re still single”.

Romeo’s find made a splash across the globe too: with Canada’s National Post attributing the success to his match.com profile: “How online dating saved Bolivia’s endangered bachelor frog” as did the US’s smithsonian.com with “A Year Later, match.com Profile Pays Off for World’s Loneliest Frog”.

But did the profile, which casually – and in a no-way needy manner – calls for “another Sehuencas like myself. Otherwise, my entire existence as we know it is over (no big deal)”, actually work?

Facts. Checked. 

Kind of. The match.com profile did more than raise awareness of Romeo – and his species’ – plight as it also raised $25,000 (£19,300) for conservationists to continue the search for more frogs in the Bolivian cloud forest.

I’m sure the Tinder rat race would be much simpler if a team was dispatched to find your perfect other half every time you swiped right.

The four-strong team from Global Wildlife Conservation and the Bolivian Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny found five frogs, including one they’d named Juliet, that they have now introduced into a conservation breeding programme to save the species.

This is perhaps the most pertinent point as Science News amplify with their own article: “This rediscovered Bolivian frog species survived deadly chytrid fungus” – behind the marketing bluster, a species has potentially been saved.

Life has been rough in the last decade for the frogs, with disease not the only obstacle to overcome. You can also add to that list: habitat destruction thanks to deforestation, climate change (our fault again), pollution (still us) and even invasive trout conspiring against them by eating their eggs.

It’s a similar story for other amphibian species in Bolivia, according to Global Wildlife Conservation, with 22 per cent facing some degree of extinction threat.

That begs the question – with such company, is Romeo even the world’s loneliest frog?

The aforementioned factors have had such a devastating effect on amphibian species in the rainforest that researchers from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, estimate more than 200 species of frog have gone extinct since the 1970s, including the Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog in 2016.

And new types of frog are still being discovered all the time – Florida International University’s Alessandro Catenazzi found one in the Amazon last March while four months later University of Manchester researchers identified another dubbed Sylvia’s Tree Frog.

So who knows? There could still be a number of Romeos wandering out in the wild undiscovered and looking for a mate.

Read the full article in this week's Big Issue.
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