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The Lost Pea-Sized Frog

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Published on Mar 6, 2012

Pea-sized frog is the old world's smallest

The smallest frog known on the Asian, European, or African continents -- and one of the world's tiniest frogs -- was found by a group of scientists searching for "lost amphibians." This pea-sized micro-frog belongs to the species of microhylid, which, as the name suggests, is composed of miniature frogs under 15 millimeters. So why was it "lost"? And, excepting the "awww, cute!" factor, why is it important that this tiny frog has been found?

The micro-frog is a "lost" frog because specimens are known from museum collections that are over 100 years old. According to Dr. Das, one of the team behind this discovery, "Scientists presumably thought they were juveniles of other species, but it turns out they are adults of this newly discovered micro species."

The newly taxonomized species has been named Microhyla nepenthicola after the Nepenthes ampullaria, or pitcher plant, that it lives on. Scientists were lured to the frog's location by the micro-frog's call, but the small size of the tiny amphibians (adult males range from 10.6 to 12.8 mm) made them hard to find. Scientists made closer examinations by encouraging the frogs to jump onto sheets of white paper.

Symbiosis with amazing pitcher plants

Pitcher plants are often carnivorous and use their "pitchers" to collect essential nutrients, as exemplified by specimens such as giant, rat-eating pitcher plants and pitcher plant animal toilets.

But the micro-frog lives symbiotically with the stangely shaped plants, named for the globular protuberances which collect and hold water in the damp, shady forests where they grow. The micro-frogs deposit their eggs on the walls of the plant's pitcher, and the tadpoles grow and metamorphose in the still waters.

Amphibians constitute the most threatened members of the animal family; fully one-third of these species faces extinction. Amphibians are important for controlling insects that can spread disease or harm crops, as well as helping to maintain freshwater ecosystems. Yet they may prove to be our "canary in the coal mine."

In the words of Conservation International's Dr Robin Moore, organizer of the search for lost amphibian species: "Amphibians are quite sensitive to changes in their surroundings, so we hope the discovery of these miniature frogs will help us to understand what changes in the global environment are having an impact on these fascinating animals."

Search for lost amphibians

The micro-frog from Borneo is introduced to the world in the taxonomy journal Zootaxa by Drs. Indraneil Das (Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak) and Alexander Haas (Biozentrum Grindel und Zoologisches Museum of Hamburg). The expedition is supported by the Volkswagen Foundation and conducted under the auspices of Conservation International and IUCN's Amphibians Specialist Group, which is conducting a search for lost amphibians.

The search for lost amphibians covers 20 countries on five continents. The updated surveys will "help scientists to understand the recent amphibian extinction crisis."

The next big target for Dr. Das is the Sambas stream toad (Ansonia latidisca) in Indonesia and Malaysia. The toad was last seen in the 1950s. It is believed that increased sedimentation in streams after logging may have contributed to the decline of its population.

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