A few weeks ago, a boy in eastern Colombia found more than just fun in his swimming pool—he discovered a new species of frog.
The 1.5-inch-long (4-centimeter-long) frog “is rather strange-looking—it’s quite fat with short legs and bright orange spots on its sides,” said Luis German Naranjo, WWF Colombia‘s conservation director.
Naranjo and a team of scientists were surveying wildlife in eastern Colombia’s Orinoco savanna, including animals found on a small farm.
Expecting to find little more than livestock, the team was surprised when the farmer’s seven-year-old son, whose name was given only as Camilito, called the group over to a pool. There, in the water, was the small spotted frog. (Also see “World’s Smallest Frog Found—Fly-Size Beast Is Tiniest Vertebrate.”)
The team’s herpetologist, Daniel Cuentas, had never seen anything like it, and immediately set out looking for other examples.
Nearby, where the savanna met a small forested riverbank, Cuentas found two more of these frogs. He quickly identified them as burrowing frogs in the Microhylidae family.
Frogs in this little-understood group bury themselves in the ground to survive the dry season. When it rains, the frogs like to hide out in local termite mounds, some of their favorite sources of food.
Naranjo explained that the species still needs to be formally named and described in the research literature before scientists can say for certain that it is a new species. But the herpetologists who saw the amphibian strongly believe that it is. (More Colombia discoveries: “Pictures: ‘Mr. Burns’ Toad, More New Amphibians Found.”)
Frog’s Future Uncertain
Another question is what will happen to the frog as its habitat is converted to agriculture.
The Orinoco savanna, a large area of tropical grasslands that connects the humid Amazon with the drier Andes Mountains, has long been written off by many as a wasteland, according to Naranjo.
But an upsurge in agricultural development and infrastructure in neighboring Brazil has recently made the region more attractive for palm oil plantations.
Before planting started, however, Naranjo and team decided to conduct an extensive survey of the little-studied region to pinpoint biodiversity hot spots. (Read more about palm oil agriculture.)
“We wanted to identify areas that are suitable for cultivation, but won’t have negative impacts on the region’s biodiversity,” Naranjo said.
As for the frog, “we want to use this discovery,” he said, “to help protect areas of high biodiversity that might otherwise be lost.”