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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Ribbits in disguise: ‘Transformer’ frog found in Ecuador

A close-up of Prismantis mutabilis. Photo: AFP

A close-up of Prismantis mutabilis. Photo: AFP

Tiny 2cm creature can change its skin texture from thorny to smooth in five minutes.

It doesn’t turn into Prince Charming, but a new species of frog discovered in Ecuador has earned the nickname “transformer frog” for its ability to change its skin from spiny to smooth in five minutes.

The tiny frog, which measures about 2cm, was found in the misty forests of the Andes mountains, and lives in a mossy habitat where its shape-shifting powers help it to camouflage itself, researchers said.

“The strangest, most outlandish thing is that this species can change the texture of its skin,” said Ecuadoran biologist Juan Manuel Guayasamin, who led the research team that announced the discovery.

The species, named Pristimantis mutabilis, is described in the April issue of the Zoological Journal Of The Linnean Society.

While some octopuses, an invertebrate animal, can change the colour and structure of their skin, “no one had ever described a vertebrate species that changes skin texture”, Guayasamin told AFP.

Presto change-o: A sequence of pictures showing the Prismantis mutabilis frog ‘transforming’ from a spiny exterior to smooth skin in just over five minutes. (Inset) A close-up of Prismantis mutabilis. Photos: AFP
Presto change-o: A sequence of pictures showing the Prismantis mutabilis frog ‘transforming’ from a spiny exterior to smooth skin in just over five minutes. (Inset) A close-up of Prismantis mutabilis. Photos: AFP

“Reptiles that can change skin colour have been documented, like chameleons. But never had such dramatic changes in skin texture been seen,” he said.

Other frog species change the texture of their skin over the course of a season, but never had a frog been found that could transform its skin so quickly, Guayasamin and four co-authors wrote in their article.

They clocked the tiny green-and-brown frog’s transformation at 330 seconds.

Photos of the experiment show the frog at zero seconds with rough skin covered in spiny protuberances, which gradually morphs into a smooth, slippery surface.

The trait may help the frog escape from danger, said Guayasamin, the director of the Center for Research on Biodiversity and Climate Change at Ecuador’s Universidad Tecnologica Indoamerica.

Though the discovery has just been announced, the species was in fact found back in 2009 by two United States researchers.

Tim and Katherine Krynak came across the peculiar little frog in the Las Gralarias nature reserve, about 35km west of the Ecuadoran capital Quito, and were surprised to find its skin protuberances had disappeared overnight in the laboratory.

Guayasamin showing a specimen of the ‘transformer frog’ in Quito.
Guayasamin showing a specimen of the ‘transformer frog’ in Quito.

Guayasamin is still working with colleagues from the United States, Brazil and Switzerland to understand how the frog’s skin works.

The frog is nocturnal, lives in trees and has several different calls – also an unusual trait for amphibians.

Seven have been captured so far, in two different areas.

The two frog populations look alike but have slight genetic differences, Guayasamin said.

Around 15 previously undocumented amphibian species have been discovered in the past three decades in Ecuador, one of the world’s most biodiverse countries.

“It’s extraordinary and surprising that we can still find completely new animals,” said Guayasamin. — AFP

Tags / Keywords: Environment , Science Technology , Science , nature , Ecuador , frog , transformer , Pristimantis mutabilis

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