Researchers discover three new species of poisonous Colombian frogs

July 30, 2018 by Federica Giannelli, University of Saskatchewan
Credit: University of Saskatchewan

By studying more than 300 dart frogs, the researchers have found that two existing Oophaga frog species actually "hid" three additional groups, and that there are actually a total of five species.

The results, just published in the journal Molecular Ecology, will allow the researchers to provide Colombian policy makers with evidence that can inform targeted strategies for these endangered frogs.

"Our finding is crucial to study life diversity," said Andrés, biology professor in the U of S College of Arts and Science. "Some may disappear even before we have the chance to study them."

The three new Oophaga species, which the researchers have named anchicayensis, andresi and solanensis, stand on their own because of their genetic differences from existing groups. They also show unique colour patterns and size, and live only in certain areas of the northern and northwestern Colombian jungle.

Colombia is a hotspot for frog populations in general, with around 800 species—a staggering 17 per cent of around 4,600 known frog species in the world. Canada doesn't even reach one per cent.

The researchers' modern identification approach, which integrates the study of genetics, colour patterns (morphology), and ecological information, has helped them debunk a previous 1976 study that reported the existence only of two dart frogs species—Oophaga histrionica and Oophaga lehmanni.

Credit: University of Saskatchewan

Because it was considered a large group, histrionica frogs were labelled at the time as a "least concern species" in the Colombian government's conservation list, while the less numerous lehmanni frogs were listed as "critically endangered."

"The government has worked hard on developing conservation programs that have actually helped lehmanni frogs escape extinction," said Posso-Terranova. "This means conservation strategies work."

He notes that naming is the only way for Colombia to include animals in the list of endangered species.

"If we don't know new species exist, how can we protect them? Naming and identifying new species is like currency for conservation policies," he said.

Andrés and Posso-Terranova's discovery might also help put the brakes on the illegal pet trade that threatens the survival of dart frogs.

Credit: University of Saskatchewan

The animals are often sold for more than $2,000 on the international black market because of their beautiful bright colours that mix black with a variation of yellow, orange or red, along with their "dangerous" appeal.

The frogs are traditionally used by Colombian Indigenous hunters for poisoning blowgun darts. The poison, which the frogs produce because they eat toxic bugs, is harmful to humans only if it enters their bloodstream.

"With new policies in place, the government could help poor local populations, who make a living off illegal frog trade, start alternative business such as cultivating flowers or cocoa beans," said Posso-Terranova.

Explore further: Mutated frog gene repels predators

More information: Andrés Posso-Terranova et al. Multivariate species boundaries and conservation of harlequin poison frogs, Molecular Ecology (2018). DOI: 10.1111/mec.14803

Related Stories

Mutated frog gene repels predators

November 15, 2017

Post-doctoral researcher Andrés Posso-Terranova and his former supervisor José Andrés have found evidence that a single gene called MC1R controls the deep black color on the skin of these poisonous frogs. The researchers ...

Freezing frog cells for conservation

March 23, 2018

For the first time, Australian frog cells have been successfully frozen and re-grown in culture, offering hope of a new technique to safeguard endangered amphibians.

Green poison-dart frog varies mating call to suit situation

November 11, 2013

In the eyes of a female poison-dart frog, a red male isn't much brighter than a green one. This does not however mean that the mating behavior of the green and red variants of the same species of frog is exactly the same. ...

Five new species of frogs identified in museum collections

March 20, 2018

Researchers from Yale-NUS College and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences have discovered five new species of Southeast Asian frogs from a group of museum specimens that had long been considered to only contain ...

Recommended for you

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

The taming of the light screw

March 22, 2019

DESY and MPSD scientists have created high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might ...

Male fish can thank genes for colourful looks

March 22, 2019

Striking traits seen only in males of some species – such as colourful peacock feathers or butterfly wings – are partly explained by gene behaviour, research suggests.

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...


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.