Whilst exploring the highest mountains in central Vietnam a new species of frog was discovered by scientists. The frogs are approximately 4 centimeters long, have a pink and yellow body, and the backs of the males are covered in small white spines. For this reason the frogs have been named the Thorny Tree Frog (Gracixalus lumarius). The results have been published in the journal Zootaxa.
Lead author Dr Jodi Rowley and her colleagues often make expeditions to the mountains of Vietnam, and this particular area had been explored back in 2009 and 2010 by amphibian biologists. The team were in a bamboo and evergreen forest in Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve in the Kon Tum Province when they discovered the frog. Two other amphibian species have been discovered here that have so far not been documented elsewhere; the Orange-bellied Leaf-litter Toad Leptolax croceus and the Misty Moss Frog Theloderma nebulosum, which is probably due to the isolation of this high (>1800 meter) forest.
Apart from very beautiful coloring, the frogs had some other interesting characteristics. As mentioned, the backs and head of the males were found to be covered in small white spines, or thorns, but females were relatively smooth. This suggested to the team that these thorns may serve to facilitate sexual recognition. Furthermore, the male frogs collected in the breeding season had the most impressive thorns, whereas the males collected in the non-breeding wet season had less distinct thorns, suggesting that they may serve to indicate to the female that the male is ready to breed. The frogs also possessed vivid gold irises.
Although no tadpoles were observed for this species, they found that the frogs laid eggs within water-filled tree hollows which is probably where the tadpoles develop into frogs. This could be a mechanism to avoid predation that may occur in more open streams or pools, or alternatively because the frogs are simply taking advantage of the most abundant water source in the area.
Unfortunately the habitat of the Thorny Tree Frog is under threat, so the future of this probable endemic species and many others remains uncertain. Southeast Asia experiences the highest rate of deforestation on the planet, and illegal logging is a particular problem in Vietnam and neighboring countries. These forests are extremely rich in biodiversity; over the last 15 years alone around 1,700 species have been discovered here. Not only that, but the restricted habitat of this frog means that it is particularly susceptible to other threats such as the pet trade and climate change, according to Rowley in a blog. "Now that we know the species exists, we hope to ensure its continued survival," she adds.