It was only last year that researchers first discovered a new family of West African Frogs – the Odontobatrachidae. These tooth-frogs, found in torrents (fast flowing streams), get their name from their curved upper teeth and their long teeth on the bottom jaw. Since their initial discovery, these tooth-frogs were regarded as a single species, known as Odontobatrachus natator, but molecular analysis has revealed that’s not the case. Researchers have found there are four additional species within this group.
Odontobatrachidae are endemic to West Africa and the Upper Guinea region. While it’s easy to distinguish the Odontobatrachidae family from other West African frogs in torrents, the species within Odontobatrachidae are practically identical. The adult frogs have a medium to large body length, adorable heart-shaped toe tips and a rough dorsal skin texture. Tadpoles have sucker-like mouthparts and are well adapted to life in torrents.
It wasn’t until researchers analyzed the molecular data, morphological characteristics and genetics of more than 150 adult specimens did they realize it was highly unlikely that they all fit into one species. They found high molecular variation between the specimens, which led them to describe four more species. These are: Odontobatrachus ziama, Odontobatrachus smithi, Odontobatrachus fouta and Odontobatrachus arndti. In the study, published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution, the family Odontobatrachidae has been raised to five species.
Researchers point out in the study that “naming does not mean knowing a species,” and discovering these new species is only a first step in ensuring their conservation. Studies like these, which describe new species, is a “baseline” for further research that go on to unpick their ecology and behavior.
“Our insights on the ecology of adult Odontobatrachus are scarce... While streams with rapids in primary forests are the preferred habitat of torrent-frogs, detailed ecological studies are missing,” researchers note in the study.
Due to ongoing habitat loss, researchers call for all five species to be categorized as “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature list of threatened species. Only some of the species – O. natator, O. ziama and O. arndti – are found in protected areas like National Parks and Biosphere Reserves, which makes the others even more vulnerable. Urgent conservation efforts are needed as researchers fear that all “West African torrent-frog species are at risk of becoming extinct.”