With their vibrant coloration, it takes little imagination to see how the clown frogs earned their name. Widespread in the Amazon basin, the cute little critters are a common fixture of the rivers. Researchers have now described two new species of these amphibians.
For a long time, it has been thought that there were just two distinct species of clown frogs hopping around the Amazon rainforest: Dendropsophus leucophyllatus and Dendropsophus triangulum. These amphibians are well known for their striking yellow and orange coloration that can range from triangular patches on their backs to full on jazzy giraffe print.
The frogs usually hang around the myriad of ponds and water courses in the Amazon, but can occasionally be found venturing into the fringes of the savannas. This massive range, as well as the multitude of different habitats that they occupy, should suggest that the species are a lot more diverse than is currently recognized.
The frogs come in some pretty impressive patterns. © Santiago R. Ron
The team undertook expeditions to six of the countries that the Amazon covers and recorded the calls and genetic information from the two species they came across. In doing so, they found that the population was indeed far more diverse than could be ascertained by just looking at them. They found that there were at least five separate species, but as many as nine. In a new paper published in PLOS One, they have now described two of these.
“We compared morphological and genetic information as well as the frogs' calls with each other – and through a combination of the different methods we were then able to delimit the new species and show that the two previous species actually comprise an entire species complex,” explains co-author Dr Martin Jansen of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt.
With the current threats facing the Amazon rainforest, one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, the researchers see their work as a race against time. They suspect that the newly described amphibians may already be threatened, as mining operations, logging, and climate change continue to impact their forest home.
The researchers suggest there are even more frog species hidden among the leaf litter and foliage of the Amazon, and yet if we do not know exactly how many there are, then it will be impossible to save them for the future to come.
The comedian of the amphibian world. © Santiago R. Ron