An international team of researchers has uncovered six new species of miniature frogs in Mexico, which is a country that is well known as a biodiversity hotspot.
The new species – found in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Jalisco – are now considered some of the smallest frogs in the world. None of the miniature frogs exceed 15 millimeters (0.6 inches) in length.
According to the researchers, the tiny size of the frogs can be explained by pedomorphosis, a process in which species retain juvenile characteristics as they mature. Over time, the frogs began breeding earlier and earlier in their development. This ultimately made them so small they can fit on a Mexican coin.
Study co-author Eric Smith, a professor of Biology at UT Arlington, believes these species have eluded us for so long because of a common bias found in conservation.
“Biodiversity research tends to focus on big, charismatic animals and can neglect smaller species,” said Professor Smith. “Because of this, these little frogs went undetected for a very long time.”
The frogs have a small range and are threatened by habitat loss. “These creatures inhabit a very narrow range among the leaf litter on the mountainsides,” explained Professor Smith. “If you hike too far too quickly, you could miss them completely.”
Hence, now that they have been discovered, the work of protecting them begins. The researchers hope to have them classified as endangered.
Beyond protecting the species the team has already identified, Professor Smith wants to explore other regions. He said that despite the progress they’ve made identifying new species, more research is needed to understand the diversity of miniature amphibians in Mexico.
“Our sampling efforts are limited in western Mexico and east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, but we are already aware of more new species from this group that need to be described.”
The research is published in the journal Herpetological Monographs.
By Erin Moody , Earth.com Staff Writer