Biomedical sciences professor has ribbeting hobby

Unique Perspective

Pixel, a red-eyed green tree frog, was Professor Lisa Cuchara's first frog. Tis species hails from the rainforests of Central and South America; the red eyes are believed to startle predators.

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isa Cuchara remembers the first time she photographed a frog. It was 2012 and the biomedical sciences professor was visiting a butterfly farm in Massachusetts. She was instantly smitten when the owner brought out a red-eyed tree frog and allowed her to take pictures.

She’d already established a reputation as an up-and-coming shutterbug. A serious academic during the week — Cuchara teaches courses like Infections of Leisure and Transplantation Immunology — she spent many weekends shooting weddings alongside her photographer husband, Tom.

But after the farm visit, Cuchara and three of her photography pals decided to buy a red-eyed frog of their own from a breeder.

“It would spend a month at my house and then rotate around,” said Cuchara. “The problem was, I got lonely when I didn’t have the frog.”

Cuchara’s husband suggested she buy a few frogs of her own. “He would live to regret those words,” said Cuchara with a laugh. 

In her first job at the National Cancer Institute, she researched how the protein Interleukin-7 could help the immune system fight cancer. She followed that up with eight years as the director of the organ transplant lab at Yale University. “I loved it,” she said. “But at a certain point I realized I liked mentoring students better.”

“You have to be very careful about having any lotions on your hands because their skin is so thin and absorbent. Even the flowers they pose with have to be pesticide-free. In winter, those flowers are hard to find, and that’s when people started buying me little cars, school buses, submarines. I even have them posing on tiny skateboards.”

She considers the frogs, which can range in price from $5 to $1,200, as pets, but admits she selects them for their looks — the more colorful the better. She notes that many people are surprised that she has a large collection of colorful poison dart frogs. She explained that, if raised in captivity, with a diet of crickets, the colorful frogs are not poisonous.

Frogs aren’t the only wildlife that fascinate Cuchara. She keeps a pair of binoculars on her desk in her office on the Mount Carmel campus because egrets, great blue herons and osprey visit the campus pond. She longs to do a series on Sleeping Giant Mountain from a spot right outside her office window.

“I want to stand right there and take the same picture every day, once a month, for a year. Then I’ll create a slide show,” she said. “I haven’t found the time to make it happen, but I will.”

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