MAY 29, 2017 10:19 AM PDT

Rappelling down the Tapuis in search of an ancient frog

2 1 255

They're called tepuis, and they may just be the missing link to our past. Huge tabletop mountains that are as evolutionarily isolated as the Galapagos Islands, these mysterious plateaus sit in the midst of South America, spanning Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana. Being so remote, they have yet to be explored by many scientists; but one seventy-one year old biologist in particular decided to go on a mission to learn more about this curious region and the species it's hiding.

To get there, Dr. Bruce Means and his team were dropped on the top of one of the tapuis in Guyana by helicopter and had to wait two days until the rain cleared to be able to begin their work. But that was the easy part. Dr. Means wasn't just interested in the ecosystem on the top of the tapui - he wanted to know what lay in the ravines between tapuis; and more specifically, if there was a difference in closely-related species that lived on the top of the rapuis and in between them. His focus was a particular frog species, called the pebble frogs. But in order to get to them, he had to descend his first rappel ever, free-hanging from a 1,000 meter tapui over a sinkhole. No big deal.

But, he says, it was worth it, because what he found was incredible. Dr. Means was able to find enough species of the ravine pebble frog to collect data that could help scientists determine how long ago the species on the tops of the tapuis became isolated from those in between the tapuis. The greater significance of that discovery means understanding just how old these geologic structures are. Dr. Means is guessing that number to be from 40-50 millions of years old. Not bad, all from a little frog, eh?
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JUL 02, 2018
Technology
JUL 02, 2018
Video: Listen to Satellites With NASA Sound Art
The Orbit Pavilion Delivers Satellite Data as Sound
JUL 16, 2018
Videos
JUL 16, 2018
Neuroscience and the Legal System.
In a court of law, it’s all about the evidence. Whether criminal or civil, the outcome of any legal proceeding must be based on what was presented as
JUL 21, 2018
Videos
JUL 21, 2018
Artificial Nerves May Transform Prosthetics
Researchers at Stanford made an artificial nerve that could move a cockroach leg.
JUL 27, 2018
Videos
JUL 27, 2018
Ever Wonder Why the Moon Turns Red During A Lunar Eclipse?
Lunar eclipses can be fun to observe, but have you ever wondered why the Moon turns red during the event? As it turns out, this red Moon phenomenon, also k
AUG 06, 2018
Videos
AUG 06, 2018
Could You Be a Memory Champion?
Memorization is a useful tool to learn information that is straightforward and objective. School children memorize the multiplication tables, the alphabet,
AUG 08, 2018
Videos
AUG 08, 2018
The Basics of Genetics
Get the lowdown on some basic concepts in genetics, and learn how the field got its start.
Loading Comments...