21 March 2019
New African frog species discovered
Published online 13 February 2019
A new frog species with distinct morphological and genetic features has been found on a remote Ethiopian mountain.
Whilst conducting fieldwork on Bibita Mountain in southwestern Ethiopia, Sandra Goutte and colleagues from New York University Abu Dhabi came across a previously undescribed frog species.
The forests in southwest Ethiopia are known for their unique animal diversity. The area has attracted the attention of many taxonomists and conservationists, but because of difficulties accessing the region it remains largely unexplored.
In the journal ZooKeys, Goutte and colleagues describe a new member of one of the richest genera of African frogs: Phrynobatrachus, commonly known as puddle frogs. This genus is widespread across sub-Saharan Africa and at least five species of Phrynobatrachus have been found in Ethiopia.
The morphological features of this new species, which the authors propose calling P. bibita, are clearly distinct from other Ethiopian Phrynobatrachus. They characterized ten specimens and, as Goutte, the study’s lead author, explains, “P. bibita has a slenderer body shape, with more elongated limbs, fingers and toes”.
The specimens are mostly golden in colour and rather small for the genus. The tips of fingers and toes are particularly enlarged, especially in females, and in contrast to other Eastern African Phrynobatrachus, their hearing organs were completely hidden.
The fact that many of the females were found perched on vegetation close to egg clutches deposited on leaves indicates they might be more tree-dwelling than most of their relatives. “The discovery of a climbing puddle frog is very interesting, as egg deposition on vegetation is unusual in this group of frogs,” says Alan Channing, an expert on African amphibians at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa who was not involved in the study.
It is possible that female P. bibita guard their eggs, which could be a display of parental care. “This needs to be further explored, but if it is verified, it would only be the second example of parental care in the genus,” Goutte says.
Analysis of the frogs’ 16S ribosomal RNA genes, which can be used to infer evolutionary relationships among species, suggested that P. bibita is not closely related to any of the other Ethiopian species. “To our surprise, the new species is morphologically more similar to a group of frogs it is less related to (genetically) and is geographically distant from its closest relatives. This opens questions regarding the evolution of general body shape in the group and its phylogeographic history,” says Goutte.
“The authors have convincingly demonstrated the uniqueness of this frog and this study will surely encourage further work in the area,” says Channing.
Goutte, S. et al. A new species of puddle frog from an unexplored mountain in southwestern Ethiopia (Anura, Phrynobatrachidae, Phrynobatrachus). ZooKeys https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.824.31570 (2019).