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Tagging Frogs

Tagging Xenopus has been done for quite some time, especially to identify females that lay good eggs.

For frog genetics, it is especially critical to be able to uniquely distinguish a frog. Frogs have a lifespan of over 10 years, so uniquely tagging frogs is well worth the initial effort, especially since X. tropicalis are so similar in appearance that two genetically different frogs can be easily mixed up. We have investigated a number of different strategies to tag frogs and list our experiences here.


Isolation - one can keep particular precious frogs isolated in tanks in order to identify them uniquely. While this is expeditious for identifying and finding a frog, it can be expensive with regard to space.


Microchips - these chips can be implanted under the skin of the frog, allowing it to be uniquely identified relatively quickly. Many frogs can be held in the same tank, although this slows identifying the exact frog that you are looking for. The number of unique IDs is extremely large. (more info)


Elastomers - these are flexible colored elastomers that also fluoresce to aid in detection. They can be injected under the skin of the frog, or between toe webbing. There are a limited number of colors, but by combining colors and location, a large number of unique identifications can be made. While very inexpensive, the elastomer works best when a large number of frogs can be tagged at the same time, to avoid wasting the elastomer. It also requires that a key be maintained that will convert colors and tag locations into a unique identification. We have found this type of tag useful for identifying a group of frogs, such as those carrying a certain mutation. (more info)


Alphanumeric tags - these are fluorescent tags with a letter and then a two digit number that can be placed under the skin to identify frogs. The number of unique IDs is limited by the numbers, letters, and locations where the tags are placed. This tag is also relatively inexpensive. (more info)


Following is a table comparing different aspects of the Microchip versus the Alphanumeric tag. Overall, the microchip is easier to read and has a lower rate of loss (for us), but it’s much higher cost is a serious consideration.



Alphanumeric Tag

Unit Cost: about $6/ chip

Unit Cost: about $1/tag

Addn’l Cost: chip reader (cost?), glue, instruments

Addn’l Cost: glue, instruments. Injector is $124, but we don’t use it

Code Identification: Simpler

Need a reader to ID. Little manipulation of the frog is necessary beyond simple restraint.

Code Identification: More Complex

Usually need brown glasses and blue light (both supplied) to fluoresce and read tag. Dark skin pigment interferes with reading code. Often requires manipulating frog to find/read the tag. Also may need to manipulate the tag under the skin to visualize the code.

Rate of Loss: Lower

Tends not to fall out if it is placed on the side of the leg opposite the incision

Rate of Loss: Higher

Tags tend to migrate under the skin and can be lost through an unhealed incision more easily

If chip falls out, it can usually be recovered from the bottom of the tank

If tag falls out, it is usually washed out of the tank, and cannot be recovered

Size: Larger

May not work in legs of smaller (male) frogs

Size: Smaller

Easily works with large or small frogs

Lifetime: life of frog (100+ years). In fact, the chip can be recovered from a dead frog, sterilized, and used again.

Lifetime: life of frog

Placement orientation: not a concern

Placement position: potential to be placed upside down or to curl/fold under the skin when inserting.




Contributed by Maura Lane