Photo Credit: Larry Serpa/The Nature Conservancy
This is the coastal tailed frog, but that's not Mr. Frog's tail dragging on the ground. It's his cloaca --- essentially a big ol' amphibian penis. The point? A number of the frogs have been found in the last couple of years in the Garcia River Forest --- 21 miles south of their known range on the California Pacific Coast. An aquatic biologist says the find is a testament to the improving health of the watershed, which has suffered from intensive logging in past decades. In this case, (population) size does matter.
Larry Serpa, a Nature Conservancy biologist, turned over 1,000 rocks in the Garcia River Forest before finding two coastal specimens, a male with a tail and a tadpole, in 2009.
He was looking because The Nature Conservancy has been working to restore the forest ecosystem along with The Conservation Fund, which helped purchase the land in 2004. To date, Serpa found more than a dozen other tailed frogs and tadpoles.
The coastal tailed frog is one of only 5,000 species of frogs in the world that uses a cloaca. Other frogs fertilize eggs after they've been laid by the female, like salmon.
"Most frogs release their eggs and sperm into the water, like fish," The Nature Conservancy explains on its Cool Green Science blog.
"But that reproductive method won't work in the cold, clear, fast moving streams like those found in the Garcia River, which would wash the eggs and sperm away. So the coastal tailed frog instead wields its extended cloaca to fertilize females internally."
The Nature Conservancy is holding up this frog as a well-endowed canary in the coal mine. It's making a, um, healthy showing.
For more frog penis puns, see this story in the San Francisco Chronicle.