Costa Rican frogs, new species discovery


A male Warszewitsch's frog in its natural habitat (El Valle de Antón, Panama). Credit: Dr Robert Puschendorf

From ScienceDaily:

The truth about a true frog: Unknown Costa Rican frog hidden amongst a widespread species

The discovery highlights the urgent need of modern DNA tools when studying rapidly declining animal groups like amphibians

April 11, 2019

Known to science since 1857, a common species of true frog (a “true frog” is one assigned to the family Ranidae), found from north-eastern Honduras, through Nicaragua and Costa Rica to central Panama, turns out to have been keeping its “multiple identities” a secret all along.

According to British and Costa Rican herpetologists, who recently used DNA barcoding to study the species in question, what we currently call Warszewitsch’s frog is in fact a group of “cryptic” species. The study, conducted in the Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG), Costa Rica, by James Cryer, Dr Robert Puschendorf, Dr Felicity Wynne from the University of Plymouth, and Dr Stephen Price, UCL, is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

In their paper, the authors suggest that the well-known Central American frog species, commonly known as the Warszewitsch’s frog, may in fact consist of multiple different “cryptic” species. This phenomenon is well documented among tropical amphibian fauna, where high levels of genetic variation within populations of a single species surpass levels found between different, classified species.

By utilizing a technique known as DNA barcoding, which compares short snippets of DNA sequences between individuals sampled, the scientists analysed specimens from three different geographic areas within Costa Rica and Panama. In this case, the researchers used sequences derived from mitochondria, the energy-producing “power houses” found in animal cells. Their results indicated there was enough genetic variation to suggest cryptic species are indeed present.

The team chose this particular species because cryptic species were previously identified at two Panamanian sites. Now, the samples from Costa Rica broaden the study area, suggesting that there could be multiple species going by the name Warszewitsch’s frog all across its known distribution.

Conservation biologist and lead author James Cryer says:

“The next step will be to gather more samples throughout the full range of the species. Additionally, if we are to fully discern one species variant from another, further studies that compare the physical, behavioural and ecological characteristics of the frogs, alongside more genetic testing is needed.”

Overall, findings like these are important to help improve our understanding of amphibian biodiversity and, thus, work towards its conservation.

“If indeed there are multiple species, it may be that they have different ecological requirements, and therefore different approaches to their conservation are needed.” Cryer says. “This study further reinforces the power of DNA barcoding for rapid, preliminary species identification. Especially in the tropics, where habitat loss, climate change and infectious disease continually threaten many undescribed amphibian species.”

Japanese scientists have identified the molecular mechanism that gives the skin secretions of a species of frog effective antimicrobial properties. Unraveling the molecular mechanism that facilitates antimicrobial activity of these peptides can help us better understand how the defense system of the frog has evolved, and how this can be used to fight microbial infections of medical importance: here.

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Seychelles frogs, new research


Metamorph Sooglossus sechellensis balanced on a 10 pence coin. Credit: Dr. Jim Labisko

From the University of Kent in England:

Conservationists discover hidden diversity in ancient frog family

April 11, 2019

Research scientists led by the University of Kent have uncovered hidden diversity within a type of frog found only in the Seychelles, showing that those on each island have their own distinct lineage.

The family tree of sooglossid frogs dates back at least 63 million years. They are living ancestors of those frogs that survived the meteor strike on earth approximately 66 million years ago, and their most recent common ancestor dates back some 63 million years, making them a highly evolutionarily distinct group.

However, recent work on their genetics led by Dr Jim Labisko from Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conversation revealed that until they can complete further investigations into their evolutionary relationships and verify the degree of differentiation between each island population, each island lineage needs to be considered as a potential new species, known as an Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU). As a result, Dr Labisko advises conservation managers they should do likewise and consider each as an ESU.

There are just four species of sooglossid frog; the Seychelles frog (Sooglossus sechellensis), Thomasset’s rock frog (So. thomasseti), Gardiner’s Seychelles frog (Sechellophryne gardineri) and the Seychelles palm frog (Se. pipilodryas).

Of the currently recognised sooglossid species, two (So. thomasseti and Se. pipilodryas) have been assessed as Critically Endangered, and two (So. sechellensis and Se. gardineri) as Endangered for the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN Red List. All four species are in the top 50 of ZSL’s (Zoological Society of London) Evolutionarily Distinct Globally Endangered (EDGE) amphibians.

Given the Red List and EDGE status of these unique frogs Dr Labisko and his colleagues are carrying out intensive monitoring to assess the level of risk from both climate change and disease to the endemic amphibians of the Seychelles.

Dr Labisko, who completed his PhD on sooglossid frogs at Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology in 2016 said many of these frogs are so small and good at hiding the only way to observe them is by listening for their calls. Although tiny, the sound they emit can be around 100 decibels, equivalent to the sound volume of a power lawnmower.

Dr Labisko’s team are using sound monitors to record the vocal activity of sooglossid frogs for five minutes every hour, every day of the year, in combination with dataloggers that are sampling temperature and moisture conditions on an hourly basis

Dr Labisko said: ‘Amphibians play a vital role in the ecosystem as predators, munching on invertebrates like mites and mosquitos, so they contribute to keeping diseases like malaria and dengue in check. Losing them will have serious implications for human health.’

As a result of this study into the frogs, the research team will also contribute to regional investigations into climate change, making a local impact in the Seychelles.

Amphibians around the world are threatened by a lethal fungus known as chytrid. The monitoring of these sooglossid frogs will provide crucial data on amphibian behaviour in relation to climate and disease. If frogs are suddenly not heard in an area where they were previously, this could indicate a range-shift in response to warming temperatures, or the arrival of disease such as chytrid — the Seychelles is one of only two global regions of amphibian diversity where the disease is yet to be detected.

It may also impact on a variety of other endemic Seychelles flora and fauna, including the caecilians, a legless burrowing amphibian that is even more difficult to study than the elusive sooglossids.

Researchers know that caecilians can be found in similar habitats to the frogs, so they can use the frog activity and environmental data they are collecting to infer caecilian presence or absence and generate appropriate conservation strategies as a result.

Endemic, endangered and evolutionarily significant: cryptic lineages in Seychelles’ frogs (Anura: Sooglossidae) by Jim Labisko Richard A Griffiths Lindsay Chong-Seng Nancy Bunbury Simon T Maddock Kay S Bradfield Michelle L Taylor Jim J Groombridge is published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Splendid leaf frog in Costa Rica, video


This 31 March 2019 video says about itself:

On this episode of Breaking Trail, the Brave Crew is in location in Costa Rica, and they FINALLY find a very special frog… the Splendid Leaf Frog! This is one RARE frog!

Get ready, you’re about to meet a rare frog that leaps back!

Breaking Trail leaves the map behind and follows adventurer and animal expert Coyote Peterson and his crew as they encounter a variety of wildlife in the most amazing environments on the planet!

Small Brazilian frogs are fluorescent


This 29 March 2019 video says about itself:

Fluorescence in pumpkin toadlets

Brachycephalus ephippium, commonly known as pumpkin toadlet, is a tiny, brightly-colored and poisonous frog from the Brazilian Atlantic forest. Under natural lighting, their skin appears orange. Under UV lighting, fluorescent patterns are visible. The fluorescence could be used for intraspecific communication or as a warning signal directed at potential predators.

From New York University in the USA:

Fluorescence discovered in tiny Brazilian frogs

March 29, 2019

An international team of researchers was studying the acoustic communications of certain miniature frogs. When they discovered that Brachycephalus ephippium could not hear its own mating calls, they searched for alternative visual signals the frogs could use to communicate instead. Unexpectedly, when they shone an ultra-violet (UV) lamp on the frogs, their backs and heads glowed intensely.

“The fluorescent patterns are only visible to the human eye under a UV lamp. In nature, if they were visible to other animals, they could be used as intra-specific communication signals or as reinforcement of their aposematic coloration, warning potential predators of their toxicity“, says Sandra Goutte.

Pumpkin toadlets (also called Brachycephalus ephippium) are tiny, brightly-colored, and poisonous frogs that can be found in the Brazilian Atlantic forest. During the mating season, they can be seen by day walking around the forest and producing soft buzzing calls in search of a mate.

An international team of researchers led by NYU Abu Dhabi Postdoctoral Associate Sandra Goutte was studying the acoustic communications of these miniature frogs. When they discovered that Brachycephalus ephippium could not hear its own mating calls, they searched for alternative visual signals the frogs could use to communicate instead. Unexpectedly, when they shone an ultra-violet (UV) lamp on the frogs, their backs and heads glowed intensely.

In a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers report that fluorescent patterns are created by bony plates lying directly beneath a very thin skin. In fact, the toadlet’s entire skeleton is highly fluorescent, but the fluorescence is only externally visible where the layer of skin tissue over the bones is very thin (about seven micrometers thick). The lack of dark skin pigment cells (which block the passage of light) and the thinness of the skin allow the ultraviolet light to pass through and excite the fluorescence of the bony plates of the skull. The fluorescent light is then reflected back from the frog’s bone, and can be seen as bluish-white markings by the observer if they have a UV lamp.

“The fluorescent patterns are only visible to the human eye under a UV lamp. In nature, if they were visible to other animals, they could be used as intra-specific communication signals or as reinforcement of their aposematic coloration, warning potential predators of their toxicity,” said Goutte. “However, more research on the behavior of these frogs and their predators is needed to pinpoint the potential function of this unique luminescence.”

The researchers compared the skeletons of the two species of pumpkin toadlets to closely related, non-fluorescent species. The pumpkin toadlets’ bones proved to be much more fluorescent. Pumpkin toadlets are diurnal, and in their natural habitat, the UV or near-UV components of daylight might be able to create fluorescence at a level detectable by certain species.

Five new frog species discovered in Madagascar


An adult male Mini scule Madagascar frog resting on a fingertip. Credit: Photo by Sam Hyde Roberts

From the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Germany:

Five new frog species from Madagascar

March 28, 2019

Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich and the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology have named five new species of frogs found across the island of Madagascar. The largest could sit on your thumbnail, the smallest is hardly longer than a grain of rice.

Madagascar, an island a little larger than mainland France, has more than 350 frog species. This number of recognized species is constantly rising, and many of the newly named species are very small.

Mark D. Scherz, a PhD candidate at LMU Munich, and Dr. Frank Glaw, Head of the Herpetology Section at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich, together with colleagues at the Technical University of Braunschweig and the University of Antananarivo have named five new species of tiny frogs found across the island. Their study appears in the online journal PLOS ONE.

The five new species belong to a group of frogs commonly referred to as ‘narrow-mouthed’ frogs, a highly diverse family found on every continent except Antarctica and Europe. Although most narrow-mouthed frogs are small to moderately large, many are tiny. In fact, the group includes the smallest frog in the world — Paedophryne amauensis from Papua New Guinea, mature specimens of which reach a length of only 7.7 mm. What’s remarkable is that, in the smallest frogs, “miniaturization” has evolved independently — often several times within a single region, as highlighted in this new study. Three of the new species belong to a group that is wholly new to science, which the authors have formally dubbed Mini. The other two new species, Rhombophryne proportionalis and Anodonthyla eximia, are also just 11-12 mm long, and are much smaller than their closest relatives.

“When frogs evolve small body size, they start to look remarkably similar, so it is easy to underestimate how diverse they really are,” says Mark D. Scherz, lead author on the new study. “Our new genus name, Mini, says it all. Adults of the two smallest species Mini mum and Mini scule are 8-11 mm long, and even the largest member of the genus, Miniature, at 15 mm, could sit on your thumbnail with room to spare.”

Finding tiny frogs in the leaf litter is hard work. “Calling males often sit one or two leaves deep and stop calling at the slightest disturbance”, says Frank Glaw. “It can take a lot of patience to find the frog you are looking for.”

Starry dwarf frog, newly discovered Indian species


This 12 March 2019 video says about itself:

Newly-Discovered Starry Dwarf Frog is the Size of a Thumbnail

Scientists just found a new species of frog in India that’s the sole member of a mysterious ancient lineage.

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Meet India’s starry dwarf frog, lone member of newly discovered ancient lineage

March 12, 2019

The starry dwarf frog is an expert hider. Plunging into leaf litter at the slightest disturbance, it has successfully evaded attention for millions of years — until now.

The thumbnail-sized species was discovered in India’s Western Ghats, one of the world’s “hottest” biodiversity hotspots. Scientists have named the frog Astrobatrachus kurichiyana for its constellation-like markings and the indigenous people of Kurichiyarmala, the hill range where it was found.

But A. kurichiyana is not only a new species to science. It’s the sole member of an ancient lineage, a long branch on the frog tree of life that researchers have classified as a new subfamily, Astrobatrachinae.

“This is an oddball frog — it has no close sister species for maybe tens of millions of years,” said David Blackburn, the associate curator of herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “With frogs, there are still ancient lineages out there awaiting discovery. This gives us one more puzzle piece to think about deep time.”

Dark brown with a bright orange underbelly and speckled with pale blue dots, the frog camouflages well in wet leaf litter, and only a few individuals have been found.

“The coloration was the first thing that stood out to me, these starry patterns with a blue tinge,” said Seenapuram Palaniswamy Vijayakumar, lead author of the species description and now a postdoctoral fellow at George Washington University. “We hadn’t seen anything like this before.”

But the starry dwarf frog nearly got overlooked in the crush of new species that Vijayakumar and his then-doctoral supervisor Kartik Shanker were finding on a series of expeditions to the Western Ghats, a 1,000-mile-long mountain range along India’s southwestern coast.

Vijayakumar and Shanker, associate professor at the Indian Institute of Science, had designed a meticulous study, covering multiple elevations, habitats and hill ranges to record and map the region’s frogs, lizards and snakes.

“When we started sampling, we realized we were digging up a huge treasure,” Vijayakumar said. “This was one among 30 species we captured one night, and while I took photos of it, none of us paid much attention to it.”

The next morning, on a chilly, wet stroll over the grasslands — watching the ground for leeches — Vijayakumar spotted another of the unusually patterned frogs.

“I picked it up and said, ‘Hey, this is the same guy I photographed in the night,'” he said. “As a greedy researcher, I kept it, but at that point in time, it wasn’t too exciting for me. I didn’t realize it would become so interesting.”

Years passed before Vijayakumar and Shanker could turn their attention to the unknown frog species and assemble a research team to describe it. Alex Pyron, the Robert F. Griggs associate professor of biology at George Washington University and now Vijayakumar’s adviser, analyzed the frog’s genetics, and Florida Museum associate scientist Edward Stanley CT scanned the frog, revealing its skeleton and other internal features.

Thanks to CT technology, the starry dwarf frog could traverse more than 8,700 miles from Pune, India, to Blackburn’s computer monitor in Gainesville, Florida, in a matter of minutes.

“I’ve never physically seen this species we’ve put all this effort into describing,” Blackburn said. “Once specimens are digitized, it really doesn’t matter where they are. The strengths that Ed and I could contribute to the team — comparative anatomy — were things we were able to do digitally.”

Blackburn and Stanley could instantly compare the starry dwarf frog’s bone structure to other frog species from the Western Ghats that have been imaged as part of the openVertebrate project, known as oVert, an initiative to scan 20,000 vertebrates from museum collections.

“We have this deep bench of CT data that makes collections amassed over hundreds of years instantaneously available, not just to researchers, but to anyone with a computer,” Stanley said.

The team found that A. kurichiyana’s closest relatives are the family Nyctibatrachidae, a group of nearly 30 species native to India and Sri Lanka. But their last common ancestor could date back tens of millions of years.

“These frogs are relics. They persisted so long. This lineage could have been knocked off at any point in time,” Vijayakumar said. “Irrespective of who we are, we should be celebrating the very fact that these things exist.”

Scientists have found many ancient lineages of frogs in the Western Ghats, whose biodiversity stems from its history and distinct geography. India, once part of Africa, split from Madagascar about 89 million years ago and drifted northeast, eventually colliding with the Asian mainland and giving rise to the Himalayas. But its long isolation as an island provided fertile ground for the evolution of new life forms and may have sheltered species that disappeared elsewhere. This is especially true of the Western Ghats, which is much like a network of islands, Vijayakumar said. The elevated region has been cross-sectioned into separate hill ranges by millions of years of erosion and climatic changes.

“It’s a perfect scenario for cooking up new species,” he said.

One question he and Blackburn are interested in exploring further is whether peninsular India’s frogs are the descendants of African ancestors or whether they first originated in Asia and then moved south.

Finding ancient lineages like Astrobatrachinae can help fill in in the region’s distant biological past, but the starry dwarf frog maintains many mysteries of its own. Researchers still do not know its life cycle, the sound of its call or whether the species is threatened or endangered.

Vijayakumar said when study co-author K.P. Dinesh of the Zoological Society of India returned to the hill range where the frog was first found, “he searched the whole forest floor and hardly saw any individuals. This frog is so secretive. Just one hop into the litter, and it’s gone.”

Triassic fossil frogs discovery in Arizona, USA


This June 2016 video from the USA says about itself:

In this episode of the Rocks of Utah we explore the Triassic Chinle River Formation. The Rocks of Utah is a YouTube series that explores the unique geology of Utah, and hosted by Benjamin Burger, a geology professor at Utah State University Uintah Basin Campus in Vernal, Utah.

No fossils were collected in this episode, rocks and fossils can not be collected from Dinosaur National Monument, and vertebrate fossils require a permit to collect from Bureau of Land Management Lands in Utah.

From Virginia Tech in the USA:

Oldest frog relative found in North America

February 27, 2019

A team of paleontologists led by Virginia Tech’s Michelle Stocker and Sterling Nesbitt of the Department of Geosciences have identified fossil fragments of what are thought to be the oldest known frogs in North America.

The fossils are comprised of several small pieces of hip bone, called an ilium, from Chinle frogs, a distant long-extinct branch of, but not a direct ancestor of, modern frogs. The fragments are packed into rock and are smaller than a pinky nail. They represent the first known and earliest equatorial remains of a salientian — the group containing living frogs, and their most-closely related fossil relatives — from the Late Triassic, roughly 216 million years ago.

The name of the fossil derives from where they were found, the Chinle Formation of Arizona.

Stocker, an assistant professor of geosciences in the Virginia Tech College of Science, says the fossils, discovered in May 2018, underscore the importance of microfossil collection and analysis for understanding extinct species whose total length is under three feet in length.

“This new find highlights just how much there is still to learn about the Late Triassic ecosystem, and how much we find when we just look a little closer,” Stocker said. “We’re familiar with the charismatic archosaurs from the Chinle Formation, but we know that based on other ecosystems, they should make up a small percentage of the animals that lived together. With this new focus we’re able to fill in a lot of those missing smaller components with new discoveries.”

Coming from multiple individuals, the hip bones are long and hollow, with a hip socket offset rather than centered. The bones of the frogs show how tiny they were: Just a bit over half-an-inch long. “The Chinle frog could fit on the end of your finger,” Stocker added.

Stocker and her team include researchers from Virginia Tech, Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, and the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History, with the findings published today in the online journal Biology Letters. Even though the fossils are part of the Chinle frog family, they are not yet naming the specific fossils.

“We refrain from naming this Chinle frog because we are continuing to process microvertebrate matrix that will likely yield additional skull and postcranial material that has the potential to be even more informative,” Stocker added.

The Chinle frog shares more features with living frogs and Prosalirus, an Early Jurassic frog found in sediments from the present-day Navajo Nation, than to Triadobatrachus, an Early Triassic frog found in modern day Madagascar in Africa. “These are the oldest frogs from near the equator,” Stocker added. “The oldest frogs overall are roughly 250 million years old from Madagascar and Poland, but those specimens are from higher latitudes and not equatorial.”

Added Nesbitt, also an assistant professor of geosciences, “Now we know that tiny frogs were present approximately 215 million years ago from North America, we may be able to find other members of the modern vertebrate communities in the Triassic Period.”

(During the Triassic, the separate continents we recognize today formed the single landmass named Pangaea. Present-day Arizona was located roughly 10 degrees north of the equator.)

The team added this discovery also marks the first time that frog fossils have been found directly with phytosaurs, and … early dinosaurs.

The Virginia Tech team included both undergraduate and graduate students from across the university, using fossils found in the field and dousing additional rock samples repeatedly in water buckets. Further study of the fossils was completed by CT scans. The undergraduates who accompanied Stocker and Nesbitt on the spring 2018 expedition to Arizona included Elizabeth Evans, a major in the School of Performing Arts; Rebecca Hawkins, majoring in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation; and Hector Lopez, majoring in biological sciences.

“Through my internship with Drs. Stocker and Nesbitt in Arizona, I learned firsthand the hard work that paleontologists put into finding fossils,” said Hawkins, a sophomore in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “Every day you have to brave long treks, heavy loads, scorching heat, and more. But, with just the right combination of patience and luck, you can find something truly amazing that makes the toil worth it, like a tiny frog hip that tells a big story.”

“Our development of methods that recover delicate bones from small-bodied vertebrates enabled this exciting discovery,” said Ben Kligman, a Ph.D. student in Geosciences from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Our aim is to use similar techniques in the Chinle Formation to uncover the early history of other small-bodied animals including lizards, salamanders, turtles, and mammals.”

Funding for the study came from the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the David B. Jones Foundation, the Petrified Forest Museum Association, and the Friends of Petrified Forest National Park