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[Photos] Tiny frog, venomous viper among 20 new species described in Bolivia

Pit Viper in striking mode. The 'mountain fer-de-lance' is a new species of pit viper that was discovered on the Zongo RAP survey. It has since been described as Bothrops monsignifer. Bothrops is a genus of pit vipers endemic to Central and South America. The generic name, Bothrops, is derived from the Greek words βόθρος, bothros, meaning "pit", and ώπς, ops, meaning "eye" or "face", together an allusion to the heat-sensitive loreal pit organs.

Pit Viper in striking mode. The 'mountain fer-de-lance' is a new species of pit viper that was discovered on the Zongo RAP survey. It has since been described as Bothrops monsignifer. Bothrops is a genus of pit vipers endemic to Central and South America. The generic name, Bothrops, is derived from the Greek words βόθρος, bothros, meaning "pit", and ώπς, ops, meaning "eye" or "face", together an allusion to the heat-sensitive loreal pit organs. Image copyright by Tod Larsen

  • An expedition into the cloud forests of the Bolivian Andes has uncovered 20 species new to science including a frog smaller than a coin, a new venomous pit viper, four butterflies, and four orchid species.
  • Along with the newly described species, the research team also “rediscovered” four species believed to be extinct, including the devil-eyed frog not seen for 20 years.
  • Overall, the expedition in the Zongo Valley near La Paz, Bolivia, uncovered rich diversity and endemism and recorded more than 1,200 plants, 247 insects, 10 amphibians, 10 reptiles, 161 birds, nine small terrestrial mammals, nine large mammals, and 12 species of bats.
  • The Zongo Valley contributes drinking water and hydroelectric energy for the cities of La Paz and El Alto and is known to provide important ecosystem services. The report calls for urgent measures for formal conservation of this largely intact ecosystem.

An expedition into the cloud forests of the Bolivian Andes has uncovered 20 species new to science, including a frog that may be the smallest in the Andes, a new venomous pit viper, four butterflies, and four orchid species.

Along with the newly described species, the research team also “rediscovered” four species believed to be extinct, including the devil-eyed frog (Oreobates zongoensis), not observed on record for 20 years, and a satyr butterfly (Euptychoides fida), not recorded for 98 years.

The devil-eyed frog (Oreobates zongoensis) was rediscovered on the Zongo RAP expedition in Bolivia. This species was previously known only from a single individual seen more than 20 years ago in the Zongo Valley. Image © Trond Larsen.

“These discoveries are the result of 14 days of intense field work spread across the rugged terrain, misty cloud forests and cascading waterfalls of the Zongo — a truly beautiful and diverse landscape,” Trond Larsen, director of Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP), said in a statement.

Larsen, along with Claudia Cortez, head of conservation and wildlife management for the municipal government of La Paz, led a group of 17 scientists into Chawi Grande, a locality belonging to the Huaylipaya community in the Zongo Valley, or “heart” valley, region, near the Bolivian capital, La Paz.

The expedition was part of Conservation International’s RAP, which began in 1990 to collect information on biodiversity and ecosystem health rapidly to guide conservation policy- and decision-making.

The Andean mountains of the Zongo Valley in Bolivia where the RAP expedition took place are steep and rugged, with numerous waterfalls and cascades. Image © Trond Larsen.
Map of the rapid assessment area. Cortez et al. (2018).

This rapid assessment of Chawi Grande revealed high levels of diversity and endemism: twelve of the species that live here are found nowhere else on Earth, including several amphibians. Given the worldwide amphibian declines, the researchers write, the high concentration of unique amphibians found here makes it a high-priority area for conservation.

Overall, the number of species counted during the expedition included more than 1,200 plants, 247 insects, 10 amphibians, 10 reptiles, 161 birds, nine small terrestrial mammals, nine large mammals, and 12 species of bats. The results of the assessment are published in the RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment series.

A praying mantis observed on the Zongo RAP expedition in Bolivia. This species mimics dead leaves and sways like a dried leaf in the breeze while it waits for prey. Image © Trond Larsen

The expedition revealed 22 animals listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List, including the channel-billed toucan (Ramphastos vitellinus), straw-backed tanager (Stilpnia argyrofenges), spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and dwarf brocket deer (Mazama chunyi).

The Zongo Valley contributes drinking water and hydroelectric energy for the cities of La Paz and El Alto and is known to provide important ecosystem services including carbon storage, regulation of the regional water cycle and precipitation, and erosion control. However, few studies have explored the region’s biodiversity.

The Zongo Valley forests are in good condition, the report says, with 90% of the vegetation remaining intact and undisturbed by humans. However, the area faces threats from the expansion of crop and livestock farming, and small-scale mining. The report calls for urgent measures for formal conservation of this largely intact, biologically rich, and ecologically significant region, and that those conservation measures be coordinated with local communities.

Cloud forest and elfin forest characterized much of the area surveyed on the Zongo RAP expedition. Thick layers of moss, with abundant orchids, ferns and bromeliads were interspersed among bamboo and trees adapted to the montane climate. Image © Trond Larsen.

“The remarkable rediscovery of species once thought extinct, especially so close to the city of La Paz, illustrates how sustainable development that embraces conservation of nature can ensure long-term protection of biodiversity as well as the benefits ecosystems provide to people,” Larsen said. “This area has become a safe haven for amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, and plants that haven’t been found anywhere else on earth.”

Here are a few of the 20 newly discovered species:

The lilliputian frog (Noblella sp. nov.) is among the tiniest in the world, measuring around 10 millimeters (0.4 inches), about the size of an aspirin tablet. The small amphibians live in tunnels beneath the moss and humus. Despite their frequent calls the researchers said they are very difficult to track. Image © Trond Larsen
The mountain fer-de-lance (Bothrops monsignifer) is a venomous pit viper. These snakes use the pits on their heads to sense the heat of prey. Image © Trond Larsen.
The Bolivian flag snake (Eutrachelophis sp. nov.) is active primarily during the day and was found “in the thick undergrowth of stunted elfin forest along the crest of the mountain at the highest elevation surveyed.” Image © Trond Larsen.
A new species of Adder’s mouth orchid (Malaxis sp. nov.) has flowers that mimic an insect. Image © Trond Larsen.
A new species of cup orchid (Brachionidium sp. nov.) with distinctive purple and yellow flowers. Image © Trond Larsen.
One of the newly described species of metalmark butterfly (Argyrogrammana sp.) this orange-winged insect feeds on flower nectar in forest clearings. Image © Fernando Guerra.
This satyr butterfly (Pseudeuptychia sp. nov.) lives high in the canopy and comes to the understory to feed. Image © Fernando Guerra.
This species of bamboo (Merostachys sp. nov.) is newly described in the scientific literature but well known and used by Indigenous communities to make instruments known as sikus, zampoñas or pan flutes. Image © Ivan Jimenez.
A newly discovered shrub from the plant genus Weinmannia. Image © Alfredo Fuentes.

Citation:

Cortez, C. F., Larsen, T. H., Forno, E., & Ledezma J. C. (eds.) (2018). Evaluación Biológica Rápida de Chawi Grande, Comunidad Huaylipaya, Zongo, La Paz, Bolivia. RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment 70. Conservation International, Arlington, VA, U.S.

Banner image of the newly discovered mountain fer-de-lance (Bothrops monsignifer) © Trond Larsen.

Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter @lizkimbrough

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