Readers’ wildlife photos and videos

October 1, 2022 • 8:30 am

Reader Lou Jost—or rather the reserve guards on an expedition he was leading—found a new species of frog in the Machay Reserve in the rainforest of east-central Ecuador. He and others have described the species formally and introduces you to it in this post.  It’s a “poison arrow” frog and one of the prettiest frogs I’ve ever seen. (The loveliest, of course, is Atelopus coynei, present in another reserve—the Dracula Reserve—in NW Ecuador). These two areas, and ten other reserves, are part of the EcoMinga Foundation, for whom Lou works. His narrative is indented, and you can enlarge the photo by clicking on it.

Some time ago you featured some pictures of a crazy black and red frog that we had discovered in one of our reserves in Ecuador. After four years of work, we finally published the species’ scientific description last Thursday:

Here’s the frog. Isn’t she a beaut? It’s the first individual found: an adult female.  Note below that every individual of this species has been collected within a few meters of this one.

Click on the screenshot to see the description:

We needed these four years to find more individuals, in order to make a more complete description. We only find an average of one of these per year! All were found in exactly the same place, within two or three meters of the place we found the first one, high on a ridge of a very remote mountain in east-central Ecuador.

Here’s a video of a subadult:

Our drone video of the remote ridge where the frog lives

The most interesting conclusions of our paper were based on genetics. For starters, our two sequenced individuals showed a normal amount of genetic variation between them, suggesting that the population is not so small as to be inbred, in spite of the frog’s apparent rarity.

But the most interesting thing was the “age” of the species, the time since the species diverged from its relatives. For the locally endemic orchids that my students and I had discovered on that same mountain, the divergence times we have measured are less than two million years. But this frog had diverged from its relatives about nine million years ago, +/- four million years. To put that in perspective, humans diverged from chimps about three million years ago. This is a very distinctive species.

As you’d expect from the warning colors, this is a highly toxic frog. Many of the famous “poison dart frogs” (which are not closely related to the genus which contains our new frog) are safe to handle even though they are deadly if ingested. But our frog caused painful itching from hand to elbow after just very brief handling, something I have never experienced when handling the local poison dart frogs.

The frog is named Hyloscirtus sethmacfarlanei, after television producer Seth MacFarlane, who produces the popular adult dark-humor cartoon program “Family Guy”.  Seth is a passionate conservationist and we honor his efforts in that field, at the request of one of our conservation partners, Rainforest Trust.

14 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos and videos

    1. Thanks! Congrats are mostly due to our reserve guards Darwin Recalde and Fausto Recalde, who are the actual discoverers of the frog and co-authors of the paper,.

    1. Better to know it as Darwin’s Frog, after Darwin Recalde, who actually first spotted it. My part in the discovery was minor. (Jerry has corrected his original post.) Curiously, Darwin’s full name is Darwin Jesus Recalde. He comes from an eclectic family. So maybe “Darwin Jesus’ Frog”?

  1. Have you tried to patent these colour combinations? (If genes can be patented, then surely the associated phenotypes can be too? No?) You’d make a killing when they appear on next year’s fashion catwalks.

  2. Question for Lou and/or Jerry: Is it still mandatory to collect and voucher one or two type specimens to name a new species? Is a Latin description still required?

    I remember when a new species and new genus of Hawaiian Honey-creeper, Melamprosops Phaeosoma, was found in the 70’s, high on the slopes of Haleakala, by an undergrad at UH (Hawaii) who was co-author of the published description. Two type specimens were taken, as I recall. The species is now extinct, I think.

    1. Some kind of type material needs to be preserved, unless it is impossible to preserve it. In that case an illustration suffices. For plants you don’t need to kill the whole plant. For animals I am not sure how much of an organism need to be preserved.

      The requirement for a Latin diagnosis has been eliminated. Yippeee!

    1. Rainforest Trust does raise conservation funds by offering species naming rights to donors. The Rainforest Trust funds usually go directly to their local partners for the conservation of the species in question and other endangered species. In our case, Rainforest Trust wanted to honor a long-standing conservation supporter, Seth MacFarlane, and asked us to name this frog after him, in return for a large donation to us for the frog’s conservation. This donation also helped pay for the herpetologists’ time and costs involved in the sequencing and description, which is important since science in Ecuador is always short of money. The people and institutions involved in the description, such as the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, are proud of their role in generating these funds for conservation and science.

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