Scientists have been naming newly discovered creatures after fantasy concepts for decades, including the dracula parrot, dementor wasp and the goblin shark. However, no fantasy author has enjoyed as much scientific success as J. R. R. Tolkien, with over 70 real-life species discoveries being named after the author’s legendarium spanning books such as “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” Now, another newly discovered species has been named after Tolkien’s work – the Hyloscirtus tolkieni.
Hyloscirtus tolkieni was discovered through a study on stream frogs that live in the Río Negro-Sopladora National Park in southeastern Ecuador. Stream frogs can be found in the Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela. These habitats provide the creatures with the pure rivers, streams, riparian vegetation, and tadpole development spots in the rocky breaks of the Andes river flows needed for survival. The discovery of H. tolkieni was a product of expeditions in unstudied forest areas of Ecuador that have been running since 2020.
“For weeks, we explored different areas of the Río Negro-Sopladora National Park, walking from paramo grasslands at 3,100 meters elevation to forests at 1,000 meters,” said study co-author Juan Carlos Sánchez Nivicela. “We found a single individual of this new species of frog, which we found impressive due to its coloration and large size.”
This impressive coloration includes the frog’s grayish-green back, yellow spots, black specks, and pink and black iris. The frog has a black-spotted golden yellow pattern on its throat, flank and belly, as well as black bars, spots and stripes on its fingers and toes. Due to its majestic colors and fantasy-like surroundings, researchers named the frog Hyloscirtus Tolkieni after their favorite fantasy author, J. R. R. Tolkien.
“The new species of frog has amazing colors, and it would seem that it lives in a universe of fantasies, like those created by Tolkien,” explained study co-author Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia. “The truth is that the tropical Andes are magical ecosystems where some of the most wonderful species of flora, funga, and fauna in the world are present.”
Despite the exciting new discovery, only one individual frog was identified from a single locality, so more information will be needed to assess extinction risks and conservation status. The authors agreed that further study and monitoring is urgent to learn more about the species’ ecology, population size and dynamics.
The researchers also noted that unexplored sites should be analyzed for additional populations, emphasizing the necessity to assess their long-term conservation status and whether it is being threatened by human actions.
“Unfortunately, few areas are well protected from the negative impacts caused by humans,” said Cisneros-Heredia. “Deforestation, unsustainable agricultural expansion, mining, invasive species, and climate changes are seriously affecting Andean biodiversity.”
The research is published in the journal ZooKeys.
Image Credit: Juan Carlos Sánchez-Nivicela / Archive Museo de Zoología, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
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