The first photos of Atelopus coynei tadpoles

August 3, 2023 • 9:20 am

As I’ve described before, I collected the first specimen of Atelopus coynei, a small tropical frog that now has its own Wikipedia page. I collected it in the late 1970s on a field trip to Ecuador with my grad-school bestie, the late Ken Miyata, a man who’s sorely missed (he died in a fishing accident in 1983). As I had loaned Ken $500 to help him pay for rent and food, he did me the honor of naming the frog after me.

As it was rare, and first found in coastal Ecuadorian wet forests, which have largely disappeared, I eventually assumed that my frog was extinct, a metaphor for my own life. But, mirabile dictu, it was rediscovered by the great naturalist and photographer Andreas Kay on February 7, 2012 at Chinambi, Carchi, Ecuador. This was far from the sea, in the rain forest of the Andes foothills near the Colombian border, and the frog was still listed as “critically endangered.

Then, in 2017, I got an email from naturalist Lou Jost, who reads and contributes to this site, telling me that A. coynei had been found on land close to the EcoMinga Foundation’s Dracula Reserve (Lou co-directs the foundation).

. . . . in December 2017, Javier and our herpetologist and reserve manager Juan Pablo Reyes organized an expedition to explore land we hoped to buy to expand the Dracula Reserve. The expedition included Mario Yanez, a well-known herpetologist from Ecuador’s National Institute of Biodiversity. They were thrilled to discover a good population of Atelopus coynei on one of the properties we were considering!!!! They also discovered another species that had been lost in Ecuador, Rhaebo colomai, though that species was known from a population in nearby Colombia. To top it off they discovered a dramatic completely unknown frog species, yellow with blue eyes!!! This is an amazing area and saving it has become a high priority for us. We are being helped by the Orchid Conservation Alliance, the University of Basel Botanical Garden, and the Rainforest Trust.

The three species mentioned above:

Atelopus coynei, photo by Juan Pablo Reyes and Jordy Salazar/EcoMinga. Isn’t it a beaut?

Rhaebo colomai (photo by Mario Yanez):

The new yellow species with blue eyes (photos by Juan Pablo Reyes and Jordy Salazar/EcoMinga). I don’t know if it’s been described in the literature yet:

But now the story of A. coynei has been supplemented, as workers at the Dracula Reserve have made the first sighting of its tadpoles! As Lou wrote me on July 28:

We have a monitoring program for Atelopus coynei, and during that monitoring, our sharp-eyed reserve guards found the world’s first-ever A. coynei tadpoles! This is really nice to see, as an indicator of breeding and also as a new piece of the species’ biology. I’ll send pictures to you as soon as I receive them (I haven’t seen them yet). Yippee!
Of course I begged for photos, and yesterday Lou sent some of an adult and several tadpoles along with this note:

Here are the adorable tadpoles and an adult, taken in our Dracula reserve. We are carefully monitoring the population and it looks very healthy. We’ve managed to significantly expand the Dracula Reserve, thanks to grassroots campaigns by the Orchid Conservation Alliance, Reserva: Youth Land Trust, and Rainforest Trust. The photographers of the tadpoles, Milton Canticuz and Luis Micanquer, are local residents who were hired by us as reserve wardens and have become passionate conservationists. I hope you can come and visit them some day!

I surely will. This name is forever, as the scientific names of animals cannot be changed PLUS I’ve never done anything that would make me be canceled.  Here is the gorgeous A. coynei and its tadpoles sent by Lou and photographed by Canticuz and Micanquer:

My beautiful, beautiful frog:

And the first photos of its tadpoles:

Note the developing legs:

Of course I asked if Lou was 100% sure that these were A. coynei tadpoles, and he replied:

No, I’m not 100% sure; it is their deduction based on their knowledge of the patterns of local frogs, and our herpetologist experts (who know the local fauna well) concur.

Here’s some info on my frog taken from Wikipedia:

Atelopus coynei, the Rio Faisanes stubfoot toad, is a species of toad in the family Bufonidae endemic to Ecuador. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, and rivers. It is threatened by habitat loss.


Atelopus coynei can be differentiated from other similar species by its ventral patterning, thick fleshy finger webbing that covers its first finger, and from its long hind limbs that cause its heels to overlap when the legs are positioned perpendicular to the body (Miyata 1980). 

Range and habitat

Atelopus coynei formerly ranged across the northwestern Andes foothills in Carchi, Imbabura, Pichincha and Santo Domingo provinces of Ecuador, where it lives along stream banks in primary and secondary montane forest between 500 and 2,000 meters elevation.

It currently found in only four disjunct areas in Carchi Province, including two locations in Dracula Reserve and Río Chinambi.

Adults are diurnal, active on rainy days on the rocky banks of river and streams. They rest at night on the leaves of streamside vegetation. They lay eggs on rocks in flowing streams. Tadpoles are typical of Atelopus, remaining attached to rocks. [See photos above for tadpoles on rocks.]


The conservation status of Atelopus coynei is assessed as critically endangered. It has a very small population which is continually declining from loss and degradation of its habitat, chiefly from agricultural activities. The population is estimated at fewer than 250 mature individuals.

Stay alive, my frog, and please outlive me! I know that Lou, his colleagues, and the EcoMinga Foundation are doing their best.

16 thoughts on “The first photos of Atelopus coynei tadpoles

  1. Nice to see such paternal pride in your personal pollywogs! Congrats, long may their line continue.
    (Also, actuarial tables on 73 year old men are less doom laden than you seem to suggest – while we’ve all “got to go sometime” you should have more interesting trips left in you yet)

  2. Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus)

    Friend of Anas platyrynchos

    Near immortalization in Atelopus coynei

    … pretty nice!

  3. Beautiful tadpoles (and frogs)! I remember Ken Miyata. His office was two doors away from mine in the MCZ when I was a grad student there. Tragic loss.

  4. Your name is attached to a very attractive frog! The tadpoles are also remarkable…never seen tadpoles with coloration and striations. Hopefully your frog will continue to thrive in its protected habitats. Its survival is up to conscientious humans at this point.

    I remember reading your account about Ken’s fly fishing accident that led to his death. Damn, that must have been a tough time for you.

  5. This tadpole has a short tail and a flattened body – even more stream-adapted than the tadpoles of the North American tailed frog.
    I’d like to see what the oral area looks like. Stream-dwelling tadpoles frequently have a large oral sucker (for want of a better word), allowing them to hold onto rocks and scrape off algae.

  6. Those are pretty cool frogs, and damn natty tadpoles. What a great way to be immortalised! I wish we had something half as smart-looking here in Blighty

  7. BTW, I re-read your Ken Miyata remembrance and subsequent comments, moving, to say the least. Did you ever get your Ken-fly-fishing slides back? At one point, you said you had a lot of shots of Ken fishing, but hadn’t scanned the slides. Later, you said you gave the slides to Ken’s girlfriend after he died and didn’t get them back, but you were trying to get them back. Hopefully you got your slides back…or at least they’ve been scanned and you have copies. And hopefully you got that Ken in a tux pic. 🙂

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