The Australian green tree frog is one of the most popular species among people keeping frogs as pets, adored for its color, polite posture, and the fact it looks a little like it’s smiling. Just when you think frogs can’t get any sweeter, in hops Litoria mira, the closest known relative to the Australian green tree frog only this time served in a delicious shade of chocolate brown. Its Freddo-esque appearance earned it the name "chocolate frog" when the lead author on the discovery of the new species, Dr Paul Oliver, first saw the animal and it was the first thing to spring to mind. As you gaze upon this beauty’s cocoa complexion, it’s easy to see why.
Described by Queensland Museum scientists in the Australian Journal of Zoology, the chocolate frog’s Latin name was inspired by the researcher’s surprise to find an unknown relative of such a popular and well-known tree frog species. “What’s a little surprising about this discovery is that the well-known and common green tree frog of Australia has a long-overlooked relative living in the lowland rainforests of New Guinea,” said Oliver in a statement. “Because of this, we named the new frog Litoria mira because the word Mira means surprised or strange in Latin.”
While L. mira does indeed resemble the chocolate frogs seen leaping out of confectionery boxes in Harry Potter, the chances are you’d be in for a bad time getting this sweet baby too close to your mouth. Frogs don’t have much in the arsenal when it comes to fighting, so many species produce toxic secretions that are released from their skin, especially when stressed. While the Australian green tree frog (which you may remember from that photo of a screaming snake) isn’t thought to be quite potent enough to pose a considerable risk to humans handling it, they have been known to release enough mucus when stressed to make curious dogs quite unwell. A good indication of stress in a tree frog is when they scream, something that many frogs are surprisingly good at.
It’s expected that L. mira is probably widespread in New Guinea, but its discovery has just taken a little while owing to the slightly perilous nature of its preferred habitat. “Because the frog lives in very hot, swampy areas with lots of crocodiles, all these things discourage exploration,” said co-author Dr Steve Richards. “While New Guinea is not a place most Australians know well; many animal groups are shared. So, understanding biodiversity in New Guinea helps us to understand the history and origins of Australia’s unique fauna.”