- In a swamp, some 6 miles away from the Newcastle airport in New South Wales, Australia, scientists have discovered a new species of frog that is only slightly bigger than a human fingertip.
- The tiny frog has a unique black and white marbled underbelly, and striking orange patches on its groin that become visible when the frog extends its legs, according to the new study.
- The researchers have named the new frog species Mahony’s Toadlet (Uperoleia mahonyi) after Michael Mahony of the University of Newcastle for “his contributions to the study of Australian amphibians”.
In a swamp, just six miles away from the Newcastle airport in New South Wales, Australia, scientists have discovered a new species of frog that is only slightly bigger than a human fingertip.
The tiny frog has a unique black and white marbled underbelly, the researchers report in a new study published in the journal Zootaxa. It also has striking orange patches on its groin that become visible when the frog extends its legs, the researchers write.
“The distinctive marble pattern on the frog’s belly, along with other features makes it quite different to any other frog species in this part of the world and led us to believe straight away that we had found a new species – it was an incredible moment,” study lead author Simon Clulow, a biologist at the University of Newcastle, said in a statement. “Nowadays many new discoveries are based primarily on genetics, that is the frogs look similar to other known species but when we analyze them in the lab we find they differ genetically. It’s almost unheard of to pick up a vertebrate in the field and know instantly, based on appearance alone, that it is a new species.”
The researchers have named the new frog species Mahony’s Toadlet (Uperoleia mahonyi) after Michael Mahony, Clulow’s mentor and a professor at the University of Newcastle, in recognition for “his contributions to the study of Australian amphibians,” the authors write.
Mahony’s Toadlet is not a toad, researchers say, but a native Australian frog that gets its name from the glands on its back and its rough, bumpy skin, which makes it look like a toad.
The new frog species is secretive and lives a cryptic life, remaining well camouflaged and hidden under grass, leaves or sand. Spotting these frogs in the wild is not easy, the researchers write. The tiny amphibians can be found only by following the male’s mating calls.
Camouflage helps the frog avoid detection by predators, Clulow said in the statement. But if a predator does chance upon the Mahony’s Toadlet, the frog leaps to safety while flashing the vibrant orange patches on its groin. “This is thought to momentarily startle the predator, helping the frog to survive another day,” he added.
The newly described species has a very restricted distribution, occurring in few coastal sand swamps in the Myall Lakes, Port Stephens and Central Coast, the researchers write. Based on the frog’s current known distribution, the Mahony’s Toadlet is probably at the risk of extinction due to threats like coastal development and should be assessed for an Endangered or Critically Endangered status under the IUCN red list, they add.
“The frog is a habitat specialist, living exclusively on a particular type of leached white sand substrate, which could make it more at risk from threats such as habitat loss and sand mining,” Clulow said. “Coastal areas such as those inhabited by this new species are also highly attractive residential development locations. Sadly, this threat, combined with the limited distribution of the frog could result in it being immediately listed as a threatened species.”
- Clulow S, Anstis M, Keogh JS and Catullo RA (2016). A new species of Australian frog (Myobatrachidae: Uperoleia) from the New South Wales mid-north coast sandplains. Zootaxa. 4184 (2): 285–315. Doi: 11646/zootaxa.4184.2.3.