NYUAD scientists discover tiny new frog species in Ethiopia

The Bibita Mountain dwarf puddle frog is golden with long legs and fingers, and the males are just 17 millimetres long

NYUAD researchers have discovered a new frog species in Ethiopia - the Bibita Mountain dwarf puddle frog. Courtesy NYUAD
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Abu Dhabi researchers have discovered a new frog species in a remote Ethiopian jungle, highlighting, they say, the importance of preserving vanishing forests.

The scientists found the species last summer in an area that, it is believed, has not been explored by naturalists before.

Starting from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, it took New York University Abu Dhabi postdoctoral associates Dr Sandra Goutte and Dr Jacobo Reyes-Velasco two days of travel by road, followed by a long hike, to reach the Bibita Mountains in the far south-west of the country.

Locals guided them to ponds in the forest and on the first night Dr Goutte found a frog that she was sure was from a new species — only it jumped away. But all was not lost.

The Bibita Mountain dwarf puddle frog is characterised by its long legs, fingers and toes and golden colour. Courtesy NYUAD
The Bibita Mountain dwarf puddle frog is characterised by its long legs, fingers and toes and golden colour. Courtesy NYUAD

“We continued to look. [Dr Goutte] found another, then another and we realised these frogs are really common in this pond,” said Dr Reyes-Velasco.

They later carried out genetic tests on tissue samples in Abu Dhabi, confirming that the frog was a new species, and they named it Phrynobatrachus bibita or Bibita Mountain dwarf puddle frog after the mountains where it was found.

The species is tiny, with males a mere 17 millimetres long and females only slightly bigger at about 20mm. It is characterised by a golden colour and it is slender, as well as having long legs, fingers and toes.

The females lay their eggs in leaves above ponds and the tadpoles drop into the water below.

The forest where the new species was found measures 50 kilometres north to south and 30km east to west. For safety reasons, the researchers did not stay for long.

“We were only there for two days — we knew there were leopards. We saw fresh tracks from an adult and a juvenile,” said Dr Reyes-Velasco.

P. bibita is described this week in ZooKeys, an English-language journal produced by a Bulgarian publisher, by Dr Goutte and Dr Reyes-Velasco, as well as Professor Stéphane Boissinot, head of biology at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Dr Reyes-Velasco said most of Ethiopia's forests have been destroyed, and the new species was found in “one of the few places that remain”.

He said the frog's discovery showed “how important it is to preserve prime forests in Ethiopia”.

“How many other species might still be there? If we don't conserve the habitat, it will be gone in the next few years,” he said.

While this is the first new species that Dr Goutte has discovered, Dr Reyes-Velasco has previously described new frog species in his native Mexico. He hopes to return to Ethiopia in July to further investigate the forests.

The discovery of another new fog species found in India was also announced this week.

Delhi University PhD sturdent Sonali Garg and supervisor SD Biju found the new the narrow-mouthed species in the biodiversity hotspot of Western Ghats, in the south of India. It belongs to the new frog group Mysticellus, meaning mysterious.