Andinobates victimatus: the frog for the victims of the conflict

Picture of Pablo Palacios and the Andinobates victimatus frog
Pablo Palacios, PhD student at Los Andes, discovered a new species of poisonous frog: Andinobates victimatus (walker in the Andes and victims of the conflict).
10/04/2018
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Pablo Palacios is a 25 year-old from the Chocó region. Thanks to a scholarship, he is studying his PhD in biological sciences and a Master’s in evolutionary ecology at Universidad de los Andes.

In 2017, Pablo made a name for himself as he was chosen as young Afro-Colombian of the year and because, last December together with five other researchers from Los Andes in a stricken area in the Golf of Urabá, he discovered a new species of positions frog: Andinobates victimatus (walker in the Andes, and victims of the conflict).

Victimatus is red, shiny, small, exotic, and beautiful, and looks more gentle than dangerous. The tips of its fingers and toes are a clear-grey color. It belongs to the family of poisonous frogs and it lives in the tropical jungles in the extreme north-east of Colombia – in the region around the Golf of Urabá. This is a forgotten region that even researchers do not dare explore.

The frog could not be from any other region of the country: as Pablo says, both are the fruit of a land where biodiversity springs from every corner. The scourges of armed conflict hit the areas inhabitants on a daily basis, and in some zones the poverty is extreme; however, the beauty is bigger than the problems.

The name Andinobates victimatus hides a history.

The frog was named in honor of the victims of the armed conflict in the zone as it was discovered on a plot of land belonging to a man with a close and sad relationship with the war. The frog allows us to remember that at one time in this area of Colombia there was massacre and death.

The first contact that Pablo had with victimatus was when he was young and he escaped the matriarchy at home. With his cousin, he went to collect water and cut wood and make rods to fish. In those days, just a short walk away, Pablo was in the heart of the Pacific jungle. It was like his garden, and he played with what were his little sisters and that are now his life: the poisonous frogs of Chocó.

The turning point in Pablo´s life was when he met the so-called ‘Messi’ of biology: Professor Adolfo Amezquita, director of the Department of Biological Sciences at Universidad de los Andes. He was teaching a course on bioacoustics in the Technological University of Chocó (UTCH) where Pablo was studying. The professor noticed the student within the large group with his “eyes wide open” asking very good questions.

He was an excellent student and, despite his shyness, convinced his idol to be the director of his undergraduate degree dissertation: which was awarded a prize. A friendship formed after many emails and phone calls.

One day, while Pablo was eating breakfast at home in his hometown Puerto Pervel, he received a call: Professor Amezquita made him an offer he could not refuse – joining a research team at Universidad de los Andes, which he envisaged to be “the great university in the capital”.

In 2013, after an overland journey that took 24 hours, Pablo was travel-sick and disorientated, but he had arrived in Bogotá. He walked around the university, and in the Ecophysiology, Behavior, and Herpetology Group’s (Gecoh) laboratory he met his future friends, colleagues, and partners who would discover victimatus: Valeria Ramírez, Daniel Mejía, and Roberto Márquez. He worked with them every day in the university, which Pablo called “the little Colombia” because of the diversity of accents, customs, and regions.

Today, with seven research projects underway, one of which is the study of the evolution of toxicity, the discovery of new species, and the physiology of the character of frogs, this diverse and complex group used amphibians and reptiles as research models to resolve questions about the role of physiological characteristics and behavior on the evolutions of patterns of diversity in the Neotropical region.

Pablo Palacios, who is undertaking a PhD in biological sciences at Universidad de los Andes, concludes that, “I am an individual from the sample: one of millions of Colombians who comes from a land where there is a lot of talent but few opportunities – that does not conform to the label that it is given. The people from my land are not born condemned.”

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