Amazing discovery in Borneo: Tiny, new, pea-sized frog is old world's smallest

Aug 25, 2010
A new species of miniature frog was discovered in Borneo. Microhyla nepenthicola, shown here on the tip of a pencil, is about the size of a pea. © Prof. Indraneil Das/ Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation

The smallest frog in the Old World (Asia, Africa and Europe) and one of the world's tiniest was discovered inside and around pitcher plants in the heath forests of the Southeast Asian island of Borneo. The pea-sized amphibian is a species of microhylid, which, as the name suggests, is composed of miniature frogs under 15 millimeters.

The discovery published in the taxonomy journal Zootaxa was made by Drs. Indraneil Das and Alexander Haas of the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, and Biozentrum Grindel und Zoologisches Museum of Hamburg, respectively, with support from the Volkswagen Foundation. Dr. Das is also leading one of the scientific teams that is searching for the world's lost amphibians, a campaign organized by Conservation International and IUCN's Amphibians Specialist Group.

"I saw some specimens in museum collections that are over 100 years old. Scientists presumably thought they were juveniles of other species, but it turns out they are adults of this newly-discovered micro species," said Dr. Das.

The mini frogs (Microhyla nepenthicola) were found on the edge of a road leading to the summit of the Gunung Serapi mountain, which lies within Kubah National Park. The new species was named after the plant on which it depends to live, the Nepenthes ampullaria, one of many species of pitcher plants in Borneo, which has a globular pitcher and grows in damp, shady forests. The frogs deposit their eggs on the sides of the pitcher, and grow in the liquid accumulated inside the plant.

A freshly metamorphosed (averaging 3.5mm) Microhyla nepenthicola sp. nov. on a penny. The Old' World's smallest frog and one of the world's tiniest was found in the heath forests of Borneo. © Prof. Indraneil Das/ Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation

Adult males of the new species range between 10.6 and 12.8 mm - about the size of a pea. Because they are so tiny, finding them proved to be a challenge. The frogs were tracked by their call, and then made to jump onto a piece of white cloth to be examined closer. The singing normally starts at dusk, with males gathering within and around the pitcher plants. They call in a series of harsh rasping notes that last for a few minutes with brief intervals of silence. This "amphibian symphony" goes on from sundown until peaking in the early hours of the evening.

Amphibians are the most threatened group of animals, with a third of them in danger of extinction. They provide important services to humans such as controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops and helping to maintain healthy freshwater systems. Teams of scientists from Conservation International and IUCN's Amphibian Specialist Group around the world have recently launched an unprecedented search in the hope of rediscovering 100 species of "lost" amphibians - animals considered potentially extinct but that may be holding on in a few remote places.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Listen to this 'amphibian symphony'. Given the small size of the species, finding specimens was particularly difficult: most were tracked down by their calls, which are harsh rasping notes. Males gather in and around the pitcher plants at dusk to call. Credit: Conservation International

The search, which is taking place in 20 countries on five continents, will help scientists to understand the recent amphibian extinction crisis. Dr. Das is leading a team of scientists who will search for the Sambas Stream Toad (Ansonia latidisca) in Indonesia and Malaysia in September. The toad was last seen in the 1950s. It is believed that increased sedimentation in streams after logging may have contributed to the decline of its population.

"Amphibians are quite sensitive to changes in their surroundings, so we hope the discovery of these miniature frogs will help us to understand what changes in the global environment are having an impact on these fascinating animals," said Conservation International's Dr. Robin Moore, who has organized the search on behalf of IUCN's Amphibian Specialist Group.

Explore further: Ants show left bias when exploring new spaces

More information: To follow the search for the lost amphibians visit: www.conservation.org/lostfrogs
Article: Zootaxa 2571: 37-52 (19 Aug. 2010) - www.mapress.com/zootaxa/2010/f/z02571p052f.pdf

Related Stories

Global plan prepared to save amphibians

Sep 20, 2005

A plan approved by a recent environmental meeting in Washington, D.C., to save the world's amphibians from extinction may cost more than $400 million.

Recommended for you

The ants that conquered the world

13 hours ago

About one tenth of the world's ants are close relatives; they all belong to just one genus out of 323, called Pheidole. "If you go into any tropical forest and take a stroll, you will step on one of these ...

Ants show left bias when exploring new spaces

Dec 23, 2014

Unlike Derek Zoolander, ants don't have any difficulty turning left. New research from the University of Bristol, UK published today in Biology Letters, has found that the majority of rock ants instinctively go lef ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shootist
1 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2010
It'd take a bunch of them to get a mess of frog legs, I tell you what.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.