Bizarre, new, tiny Amazonian frog carries its heart on its sleeve

29 May 2017

Juvenile of the new glass frog species (Hyalinobatrachium yaku). Image: Ross Maynard (CC-BY 4.0)

‘Glass frogs’ are a group of almost transparent frogs found generally around the Amazon. The latest discovery wears its heart on its sleeve, back, front …

At just 2cm in size, it’s perhaps understandable that Hyalinobatrachium yaku has remained undiscovered until now.

Although, perhaps that has more to do with just how transparent it is. Hanging out on leaves, the newly found species of frog has captured the imagination of a team of scientists, thanks to its hearty appearance.

Future Human

Glass frog

In the Neotropics, these various ‘glass frogs’ often reveal their internal organs through skins that vary in transparency.

But this new discovery, found in Amazonian Ecuador, goes a step further to fully expose its heart, with transparent skin stretching all over its chest as well as its belly.

Juvenile of the new glass frog species (Hyalinobatrachium yaku) in life. Image: Jaime Culebras/Ross Maynard/CC-BY 4.0

Juvenile of the new glass frog species (Hyalinobatrachium yaku), hearts and all. Image: Jaime Culebras, Ross Maynard (CC-BY 4.0)

It can also be distinguished by the relatively large, dark green spots at the back of its head and the foremost part of the body. Additionally, the species has a characteristic long call.

This frog has one or two other quirks to its behaviour, including the males calling for mates from the undersides of leaves, as well as taking care of clutches of eggs.

It’s not the first bizarre-looking discovery of recent times.

Last year, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was diving in the Marianas Trench, thought to be the deepest part of the ocean, searching for new species of sea life.

On one of its trips, it captured footage of an amazing species at a depth of around 3,700ft, in what is aptly called the Enigma Seamount.

Best of the year?

Today’s glass frog discovery comes too late to be included in the College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) list of the best 10 found in the past year.

An omnivorous rat, a Harry Potter hat and a Game of Thrones ant feature on that list, alongside an unexpected pink plant, a swimming centipede and a tomato.

In the decade since the first ranking, curators of the list claim that almost 200,000 new species have been discovered and named.

Rate of extinction

“This would be nothing but good news were it not for the biodiversity crisis and the fact that we’re losing species faster than we’re discovering them,” said Quentin Wheeler, president of ESF.

“The rate of extinction is 1,000 times faster than in prehistory. Unless we accelerate species exploration, we risk never knowing millions of species or learning the amazing and useful things they can teach us.

“We are altering ecosystems, decimating biodiversity and polluting our waters,” he said. “Of all the devastating implications of climate change, none is more dangerous than accelerating species extinction.”

Indeed, this new glass frog is presumed to be under threat, despite the lack of data on its geographical range.

“Glass frogs presumably require continuous tracts of forest to interact with nearby populations, and roads potentially act as barriers to dispersal for transient individuals,” explain the authors of the paper, published in ZooKeys.

Juvenile of the new glass frog species (Hyalinobatrachium yaku) in life. Image: Jaime Culebras/Ross Maynard/CC-BY 4.0

Juvenile of the new glass frog species (Hyalinobatrachium yaku). Image: Jaime Culebras/Ross Maynard (CC-BY 4.0)

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic