Unique shape-shifting frog discovered in Ecuador

Shape-shifting frog
© Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

While we humans may pine for the secret superpower of invisibility, a number of lucky inhabitants of the animal world have a reasonable approximation. While many creatures have markings that work to camouflage them within their typical habitats, a number of animals have highly developed abilities to actually change their bodies in order to visually disappear. Chameleons and octopuses come to mind.

And now we can add a newly discovered frog species Pristimantis mutabilis – the mutable rainfrog – to the list of trickster animals that double as masters of disguise.

First discovered by Case Western Reserve University researchers, Katherine and Tim Krynak, at Reserva Las Gralarias in north-central Ecuador, the frog’s skin transforms from spiny to smooth (or vice versa) in a little more than three minutes. The size of the frog’s tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs change as well.

The amphibian is believed to be the first known to have this shape-shifting capability, according to a press release heralding the discovery.

Katherine Krynak suggests that the ability to shift skin texture to blend into its surroundings may enable P. mutabilis to hide from birds and other predators.

"The spines and coloration help them blend into mossy habitats, making it hard for us to see them," she said.

Along with colleagues from Universidad Indoamérica and Tropical Herping in Ecuador, the researchers co-authored a manuscript describing the new animal and skin texture plasticity in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Unique shape-shifting frog discovered in Ecuador
An amphibian in the western Andean cloud forest changes skin texture in minutes in an effort to better blend in; it’s believed to be the first known frog to have this capability.

Related Content on Treehugger.com