New frog species is world's smallest vertebrate

Jan 11, 2012
This is a photograph of a paratype of P. amanuensis (LSUMZ 95004) on a US dime (diameter 17.91 mm). Credit: Rittmeyer EN, et al. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029797

LSU's Chris Austin recently discovered two new species of frogs in New Guinea, one of which is now the world's tiniest known vertebrate, averaging only 7.7 millimeters in size – less than one-third of an inch. It ousts Paedocypris progenetica, an Indonesian fish averaging more than 8 millimeters, from the record. Austin, leading a team of scientists from the United States including LSU graduate student Eric Rittmeyer, made the discovery during a three-month long expedition to the island of New Guinea, the world's largest and tallest tropical island.

"It was particularly difficult to locate Paedophryne amauensis due to its diminutive size and the males' high pitched insect-like mating call," said Austin. "But it's a great find. is a hotspot of biodiversity, and everything new we discover there adds another layer to our overall understanding of how biodiversity is generated and maintained."

Austin, curator of herpetology at LSU's Museum of Natural Science and associate professor of biological sciences, is no stranger to discovering new , having described numerous species previously unknown to science, including frogs, lizards and parasites.

These most recent species descriptions, which will be published in PLoS ONE on Jan. 11, highlight an interesting trend among the discovery of extremely small vertebrates. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

"The size limit of vertebrates, or creatures with backbones, is of considerable interest to biologists because little is understood about the functional constraints that come with extreme body size, whether large or small," said Austin.

With more than 60,000 vertebrates currently known to man, the largest being the blue whale with an average size of more than 25 meters (75 feet) and the smallest previously being a small Indonesian fish averaging around 8 millimeters, there was originally some thought that extreme size in vertebrates might be associated with aquatic species, as perhaps the buoyancy offers support and facilitates the development of extremism. However, both new species of frogs Austin described are terrestrial, suggesting that living in water is not necessary for small body size.

"The ecosystems these extremely small occupy are very similar, primarily inhabiting leaf litter on the floor of tropical rainforest environments," said Austin. "We now believe that these creatures aren't just biological oddities, but instead represent a previously undocumented ecological guild – they occupy a habitat niche that no other vertebrate does."

Explore further: How ferns adapted to one of Earth's newest and most extreme environments

More information: Rittmeyer EN, Allison A, Gru¨ ndler MC, Thompson DK, Austin CC (2012) Ecological Guild Evolution and the Discovery of the World's Smallest Vertebrate. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29797. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029797

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Jonseer
3.8 / 5 (4) Jan 11, 2012
and did the frog survive direct contact withe metals in the dime. Normally this would not be a concern, but considering the nature of a frog's skin especially one of this size, I imagine it could absorb every bit of toxic and pathogenic elements it came in contact with on that dime which no doubt spent a lot of time in filthy human hands.

Still I guess it died for a good cause, a neat photograph that made the researcher feel good.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jan 12, 2012
and did the frog survive direct contact withe metals in the dime.

Given that upon collecting a new spcies there's usually a host of lethal stuff being done to them (dissections, prepartions for exhibitions and whatnot) I think that is a pretty small concern.
EvolutionDG
not rated yet Jan 12, 2012
I applied to this guy's lab a few months ago for PhD for next fall! Awesome
Callippo
1 / 5 (1) Jan 12, 2012
The miniaturization never stops. In next ten years the frogs are expected to beat the quantum limit.