When researchers when to Tanzania’s Ukaguru Mountains, they were able to come across a brand new kind of frog species with a unique trait. These frogs don’t make a sound, which makes them unique. The small, silent Ukaguru spiny-throated reed frog (Hyperolius ukaguruensis) doesn’t croak, chirp, sing, or ribbit.
“It’s a very odd group of frogs,” Lucinda Lawson said. She is a conservation biologist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati. She spoke to the author at Mongabay about this. The new species that they uncovered is a member of the Hyperolius genus of African reed frogs, details of which are in the journal PLOS ONE.
Frogs oftentimes use sounds to attract their mate. However, the males of this species have tiny spines on their throats. Scientists think that this is what the females may use to identify their males.
“The male frogs don’t call like most other frogs do. We think they may use the spine as something like Braille for species recognition,” Lawson said. “Without a call, they need some other way to recognize each other.”
Lawson and her team of experts first came across the frog in 2019 when they were looking for other species, the elusive Churamiti maridadi tree toad, that were known to live in the Ukaguru Mountains. Despite having had seven surveys previously in the area, C. maridadi has only been seen twice in the wild by scientists. They fear that the species might actually be extinct. While Lawson and her team didn’t see the tree toad, their trip helped them discover the silent Ukaguru spiny-throated reed frog.
According to Lawson, finding a new member of this rare group of frogs, which consists of only a few species that are in small populations, is a big win for all the conservation efforts by some groups and people.
“Time spent looking for the beautiful tree toad yielded unexpected results. It was a fantastic finding that made the effort well worth it,” study co-author H. Christoph Liedtke said in a press release. He is a postdoctoral researcher with the Spanish National Research Council.
The Ukaguru Mountains are in central Tanzania and these are sometimes referred to as sky islands. About 30 million years ago, the entire region was covered by a giant rainforest. However, things changed when the drier and cooler period about 10 million years ago happened and the lowland forests turned into savannas. The mountainous areas then became the “islands” of the tropical forest.
The constantly humid climate and the seclusion of each peak in the range have brought about a high degree of endemism: Nearly 25 percent of all vertebrate species that occur in the Ukaguru Mountains are found just here and nowhere else on the planet.
“The Ukaguru Mountains are part of the greater Eastern Arc Rift, a fascinating cradle of biodiversity, with many species endemic to single mountain blocks,” Liedtke explained. “The fast population growth in Tanzania means that the mountain forest habitats are under growing threats from people.”
The scientists who want to push for conservation are looking to undertand how many of these frogs are found in the wild and where they live. This plays a big role in their efforts and the researchers say finding this very new frog only proves to everyone that there’s so much yet to learn and uncover in the world.
“We still have a long way to go before understanding what species are there and where they can be found,” said Simon Loader. He is a curator of vertebrates at London’s Natural History Museum and he was the one who helped the team describe the new species. “This is particularly the case for the biodiverse-rich submontane forests of Tanzania,” he also added.
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