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New ‘stone’ frog discovered in Vietnam

  • Researchers first collected specimens of the frog in 2013 while surveying forests covering limestone hills in Vietnam’s Lai Chau and Tuyen Quang Provinces.
  • After analyzing and comparing this frog’s appearance, call, as well as DNA with that of closely related frogs, the team confirmed that it was indeed a new species.
  • Unfortunately, the researchers suspect that the new species is already threatened with extinction and recommend listing it as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

In the rugged limestone hills of northern Vietnam, scientists have discovered a new species of frog that looks like a small piece of rock.

Researchers have named it the stone leaf-litter frog or Leptolalax petrops, derived from the Latin words petra, meaning “rock”, and –ops, meaning “having the appearance of”. The frog, measuring only about two to five centimeters (~0.8 to 2 inches), is dull brown in color and has a gold-copper iris, the researchers report in a new study published in Zootaxa.

“The very rough skin texture of females was the feature that stood out the most to me — it made them look like part of the rocks that they were found on,” study author Jodi Rowley, Curator of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Biology at the Australian Museum Research Institute, said in an email.

The newly described stone-leaf litter frog is only 2 to 5 centimeter long. Photo by Jodi Rowley/Australian Museum.

Rowley and her colleagues first collected specimens of the frog in 2013 while surveying forests covering limestone hills in Vietnam’s Lai Chau and Tuyen Quang Provinces. The researchers suspected that the tiny frog was a possible new species because it did not fit the characteristics of known species at that time. The frog’s stone-like appearance and high-pitched fast-paced advertisement call seemed especially distinctive, Rowley said.

After analyzing and comparing this frog’s appearance, call, as well as DNA with that of closely related frogs, the team confirmed that the frog was indeed a new species. “Both looking like and living amongst stone is likely what enabled this frog to remain undetected until now,” Rowley said.

The frog is known only from two forest covered limestone hills in Lai Chau and Tuyen Quang Provinces, Vietnam. Photo by Jodi Rowley/Australian Museum.

Unfortunately, the researchers suspect that the new species is already threatened with extinction.

The stone leaf-litter frog is currently known only from two locations in Lai Chau and Tuyen Quang Provinces. Moreover, the evergreen forests covering the frog’s limestone habitats are rapidly disappearing, the authors write.  “We observed forest loss even in the areas where we found the frog,” Rowley said.

Based on their observations, the researchers recommend listing the species as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“So much remains a mystery about this frog; nothing is known about its tadpoles, and less than 50 adults have ever been recorded,” Rowley wrote in a blog post. “It’s so important that this living pebble is protected from joining the growing list of species that we lose before we even know that much about them.”

Scientists recommend listing the new species as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Photo by Jodi Rowley/Australian Museum.

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