Ten new amphibian species discovered in Colombia

Posted: 2 February 2009

Scientists today announced the discovery of 10 amphibians believed to be new to science, including a spiky-skinned, orange-legged rain frog, three poison dart frogs and three glass frogs, so called because their transparent skin can reveal internal organs.

Glass frog
Glass frog
This glass frog of the Cochranella genus is among the discoveries. Credit: © Conservation International Colombia/Marco Rada
The species were discovered during a recent Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) expedition in Colombia's mountainous Tacarcuna area of the Darien, near the border with Panama. The expedition was led by herpetologists from Conservation International (CI) in Colombia and ornithologists from the Ecotrópico Foundation, with the support of the local Emberá community of Eyakera.

Over a period of three-weeks, the scientists identified approximately 60 species of amphibians, 20 reptiles and almost 120 species of birds, many of them apparently found nowhere else.

The potentially new species of amphibians include three glass frogs of the Nymphargus, Cochranella and Centrolene genera; three poison frogs of the Dendrobatidae family (Colostethus, Ranitomeya and Anomaloglossus genera), one harlequin frog of the Atelopus genus, two species of rain frogs of the Pristimantis genera and one salamander of the Bolitoglossa genus. Colombia holds one of the most diverse amphibian communities in the world, with 754 species currently recorded.

In addition to the new discoveries, the expedition recorded the presence of large mammals such as Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii), listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered in Colombia, and four species of monkeys, including Geoffroy's spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), Geoffroy's tamarin or red crested bare-faced tamarin (Saguinus geoffroyi), white-throated capuchin or Gorgona white-fronted capuchin (Cebus capucinus) and the mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata). They also found populations of white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari).

"Once more we confirm we are leaders in natural diversity and not only in our region but in the world. Without a doubt this discovery represents a great milestone for science and human health," said Colombia's Minister of Environment Juan Lozano.

Poison frog
Poison frog
A poison frog from the Dendrobatidae family potentially new to science discovered in the hills of Tacarcuna, a mountainous area on the border of Colombia with Panama. Credit: © Conservation International Colombia/ Marco Rada
Scientists consider amphibians important indicators of ecosystem health. With porous, absorbent skin, they often provide early warnings of environmental degradation caused by acid rain, or contamination from heavy metals and pesticides that can also harm people. Amphibians help control the spread of many diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, because they eat the insects that deliver these diseases to human populations. In addition, amphibians are extremely susceptible to unusual weather variations, with many species impacted by climate change.

"Without a doubt this region is a true Noah's Ark. The high number of new amphibian species found is a sign of hope, even with the serious threat of extinction that this animal group faces in many other regions of the country and the world," said Jose Vicente Rodriguez-Mahecha Scientific Director of CI-Colombia.

This area of the Darien is isolated from the Andes Mountain range. It is recognized as a center of endemism and valuable for its high biological diversity. Historically it has served as a bridge for flora and fauna exchange between North and South America.

Although the natural cover of the Darien region is currently relatively undisturbed, it faces many threats and is undergoing rapid landscape transformation, mainly due to selective wood extraction, extensive cattle ranching, illicit crop cultivation, hunting, mining and habitat fragmentation. Between 25 and 30 per cent of the natural vegetation of the area is being deforested, especially in the lowlands and alluvial plains.