7 teensy new frog species discovered in Brazil’s cloud forests

New frog species
CC BY 2.0 Luiz Fernando Ribeiro

Less than half an inch in length, the brightly colored frogs are highly endemic and vulnerable to extinction.

Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest is home to a very unusual group of frogs that have been captivating naturalists for over a century. Known as Brachycephalus, these frogs are some of the smallest terrestrial vertebrates on the planet – adults generally don’t exceed 1 centimeter (0.4 inch). Their diminutive size leads to a number of changes in their body structure, such as reduction in the number of toes and fingers, making them all the more unique. Adding to their intrigue, many species of Brachycephalus are beautifully hued, likely as a warning to predators that their skin harbors a highly potent neurotoxin known as tetrodotoxin. Cute, tiny, bright frogs with funny feet that pack a punch, what's not to adore?

Brachycephalus was first described in 1842 by the German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix; yet since then, most of the species known have only been discovered in the last decade. Because they are so endemic and live in such remote areas, research has been slow-going. The recent discoveries comprise the largest addition to the known diversity of Brachycephalus.

Now after five years of exploration, a team of researchers has discovered seven new species of the charming froglets. Each species highly endemic, existing in cloud forests in only one or a few adjacent mountaintops. This makes them “highly vulnerable to extinction,” particularly due to shifts in the distribution of cloud forest due to climate change, say the researchers.

"Although getting to many of the field sites is exhausting, there was always the feeling of anticipation and curiosity about what new species could look like", said Marcio Pie, a professor at the Universidade Federal do Paraná, who led the project.

Yet there is concern about the longevity of the newly discovered species. Cloud forests are highly sensitive to climatic changes, note the researchers, and the long-term preservation of these species might include not just protecting their habitats but also more direct management, such as raising them in captivity. The same things that have made them so fascinatingly endemic may ultimately be that which threatens their survival.

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