A glass frog with a call like no other has been discovered in the coastal mountain range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia. Biologist José Luis Pérez-González heard the high-pitched trill while camping near a creek on a survey expedition of harlequin toads, some of the last-remaining in high-altitude ecosystems. Unable to make it back by nightfall, the team decided to pitch tent nearby.
“We got bored and went to explore the creek where we found a glass frog – but the frogs’ calls were markedly different from the call of the species we already knew, the endemic Magdalena giant glass frog,” said Pérez-González, the vice president of Global Wildlife Conservation’s (GWC) partner Colombian NGO Fundación Atelopus, in a statement.
The new species, called the Guajira giant glass frog (Ikakogi ispacue), looks almost identical to the Magdalena giant glass frog (Ikakogi tayrona), but it sings a markedly different call. This meant the researchers needed to scientifically certify the high-pitched frog as a new species. So they searched the dense jungle underbrush for more, including its tadpoles, to conduct DNA analysis. Sure enough, the glass frog was new to science. It is described in the journal PLOS ONE. Its scientific name is a nod to its likeness to its twin species, with “tshi” and “spákue” meaning “twin of” in the language of the indigenous Kogui.
Glass frogs are known for their partially or fully transparent belly skin that displays their innards, pounding heart and all. This new specimen is green speckled with dark dots and has creamy yellowish flanks and toes. Although most glass frogs have green bones, Guajira has white ones, joining its twin species as the only other glass frog to have them.
“For many generations, indigenous communities have lived in and protected these beautiful yet fragile ecosystems,” said Lina M. Valencia, GWC’s Colombia Conservation Officer. “They are the guardians and the stewards of these territories, this is their home, and what ultimately threatens biodiversity also threatens them. Their traditional knowledge, practices and culture [are] intrinsically linked with nature. It is therefore critical that we work with indigenous people to successfully achieve conservation objectives.”
Unfortunately, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is under threat. A 2018 peace treaty ended civil war with the FARC guerilla group, but this has led to greater interest in development in the region, putting the forest at risk. To make matters more complicated, the deadly infectious disease chytridiomycosis is also threatening Colombia’s amphibian population.
“The discovery of this new glass frog is a call to action,” said Pérez-González. “We all know that this is a place of high endemism, but the truth is that few conservation actions are in place. We need management plans at the regional and national levels that allow us to invest resources and take actions to conserve the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.”
“Finding this species is not where the work ends,” added Valencia. “Although the species was found in a pristine area, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a fragile place facing many threats in the wake of climate change. We need to start working alongside local communities to protect this beautiful forest, its incredible biodiversity and the local livelihoods it supports.”