I live in San Francisco and the California Academy of Sciences is one of my favorite places to visit! Who doesn’t love penguins, rainforests, albino alligators, and a rad planetarium all under one roof??
In 2015, researchers at the Academy added 102 new plant and animal species to our family tree. The new species include two frogs, 23 ants, three beetles, eight wasps, 11 spiders, 26 fishes, nine sea slugs, two corals, nine plants, one water bear, and eight new viruses.
Given that we have found less than 10% of the species on our planet, the Academy has inspired me to share ten of my favorite wild new species discovered in 2015. Meet the hog-nosed shrew rat, sparklemuffin spider, and water bear. Happy New Year! 🎉
Behold sparklemuffin (Maratus jactatus), a peacock spider found in Australia.
Enyalioides sophiarothschildae, one of the three new species of dwarf dragons discovered in the Andes of Peru and Ecuador.
“Water bear” is a cuddly name for a microscopic water-dwelling organism with eight legs topped by tiny claws.
Shape-shifting frog. This species, found in Ecuador, can change the texture of its skin in a matter of minutes.
Like other horseshoe bats, this newfound animal has a large structure on its face that is shaped somewhat like a (surprise!) horseshoe.
The hog-nosed rat (Hyorhinomys stuempkei) was found on a mountain in Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia.
A face only a mother could love. A close-up view of the electric ray Tetronarce cowleyi, which feeds on bony fish and small sharks.
This marine pill bug (Exosphaeroma pentcheffi), found in a seaside park in Los Angeles, is just one of many species discovered in 2015.
Researchers from the Academy described six new species of strange subterranean ants from the genus Prionopelta in Madagascar and Seychelles – known as ‘Dracula’ ants.
Another newly discovered species of nudibranch, or sea slug: the pink-and-orange Doto splendidisim.
Don’t try to butt heads with these little guys – it just might kill you! The first known venomous frogs have been discovered Brazil. They use small spines on their head, and a vicious head thrash, to inject their potent venom. Yikes! 🐸
Poisonous frogs are nothing new, but ‘truly’ venomous frogs are. Traditionally, venomous creatures bite, sting or stab you to do their damage, while you have to bite or touch poisonous critters to feel their effects. I suppose the venomous variety are a bit more proactive with their toxins. 🐍
“Discovering a truly venomous frog is nothing any of us expected, and finding frogs with skin secretions more venomous than those of the deadly pit vipers of the genus Bothrops was astounding,” co-author Edmund Brodie, Jr., of Utah State University said in a press release.
Brodie and his colleague Carlos Jared of Instituto Butantan in São Paulo, Brazil, study Corythomantis greeningi (Greening’s frog) and Aparasphenodon brunoi (Bruno’s casque-headed frog). Jared learned the frogs were venomous the hard way after a Greening’s frog ‘stung’ his hand, which resulted in excruciating pain that spread up his arm – lasting five hours!
According to NBC News, a single gram of the venom from the more toxic frog species, Aparasphenodon brunoi, could kill more than 300,000 mice, or about 80 humans, while a gram of the venom from Corythomantis greeningi could kill more than 24,000 mice, or about six humans.
The frogs release a white, toxic mucus from glands in their skin when they feel threatened. Then they use the spines on their skull to drive the toxins into its enemy’s flesh. No thanks…
Bruno’s casque-headed frog. Credit: Carlos Jared/Butantan Institute
The skull of Greening’s frog. Credit: Carlos Jared/Butantan Institute
Corythomantis greeningi frogs carry potent venom. Credit: Carlos Jared
These newly discovered mini-frogs are so small they barely fit on your fingernail – but, they do come in some flashy colors!
Brachycephalus (Anura: Brachycephalidae) is a remarkable genus of miniaturized frogs that call the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest home. The first Brachycephalus species was found in 1824, but most of the species have been discovered over the past 15 years.
Brachycephalus leopardus is dark yellow with black spots – looks like its hitting the gym! IMAGE: MARCIO R. PIE, CC BY SA
A new species of Brachycephalus from Brazil IMAGE: LUIZ FERNANDO RIBEIRO, CC BY SA
The seven new species live on seven distinct mountaintops in south eastern Brazil. Their habitats are known as ‘cloud forests.’ Each species is cut off from one another due to dips and valleys with varying climates that act as environmental barriers.
Brachycephalus are a group of frogs known for their bright colors and miniscule size – some are the smallest terrestrial vertebrates on record (less than 1cm). Their tiny frog anatomy has shrunk to their size, but one thing has changed. These amphibians typically have three toes and two fingers, instead of the five toes and four fingers found in most frogs.
Their skin is what sets them apart. They vary in color and texture; some are rough and bumpy, while others are quite smooth. Their bright colors alert predators to the poisonous toxins in their skin. Those with brighter colors often reflect higher levels of the deadly chemical tetrodotoxin.
The severe isolation experienced by these frogs has produced 21 known species of Brachycephalus – and a new study has pushed that count to 28.
Marcio Pie, a professor at the Universidade Federal do Paraná in Brazil, led researchers into the remote misty rainforest in search of these tiny critters. Following extensive fieldwork, treacherous hikes, and hours of sifting through dirt and leaves, they found a surprising seven new species of Brachycephalus!
I’d like to introduce you to two very special amphibians. One gives birth through its mouth, and was brought back from the dead. The other has given me terrifying nightmares since I was a kid. This is mainly due to the fact that it gives birth to live young from its back. Scroll down if you dare.
The Gastric-Brooding Frog
The gastric-brooding frog is famous for two reasons; it gives birth out of its mouth, and it was literally brought back from extinction.
This unique species of frog is native to Queensland in eastern Australia. The female swallows her fertilized eggs and incubates them in her stomach for roughly six weeks. Don’t worry, she doesn’t digest them! Chemicals released by the eggs tells her stomach to stop producing acid and she stops eating. Around 20 to 25 tadpoles hatch inside her and the mucus from their gills continues to keep the acid at bay. Over the next six weeks, as the hatchlings grow and her stomach bloats, mom’s lungs collapse and she is forced to breathe through her skin. She then ‘vomits’ out her fully formed frog babies.
The gastric-brooding frog went extinct in 1983, but researchers in Australia brought it back! Click here to learn more about the “Lazarus Project” and ‘de-extinction’ technology 🙂
The Suriname Toad
The Suriname sea toad is flat and gives birth out of its back! The female toad’s offspring develop from eggs to frogs underneath her skin. No joke, the video below could actually make me vomit, so I’m just going to leave it below for your creepy viewing pleasure.
This species is famous for its reproductive abilities. The female Suriname toad can carry up to 100 eggs in her back – forming an irregular honeycomb design.
The male toad produces a sharp clicking noise by snapping the hyoid bone in its throat, which attracts a nearby partner. The female rises from the floor –> the male mounts her back –> they begin flipping through the water –> the female releases eggs with each flip –> the male fertilizes them before he helps embed the eggs in her skin.
Once the eggs are implanted, a film forms over them, creating protective pockets (gross). Four months later, the fully grown frogs punch their way through the skin to freedom.
You thought Kermit the Frog was the cutest? Look at this little guy’s eye-popping lime-green skin, bulging white eyes, and perfectly shaped black pupils. Kermit may be rich, and he clearly he has better luck with assertive pigs, but this newly discovered glass frog has put the internet into a tizzy with its cuteness.
Brian Kubicki, founder of the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center, discovered the frog in Costa Rica. He decided to name the tiny amphibian after his mother.
The Diane’s Bare-hearted glass frog (Hyalinobatrachium dianae) has a translucent belly and a very distinctive call. It lets out a high pitched whistle like that of an insect, which may help it find a mate.
Diane’s Bare-hearted glass frog rocks a see-through underbelly, leaving its organs completely visible! The reason for this lack of pigmentation remains a mystery to scientists.
Somehow this Kermit look-a-like managed for fly under the radar and evade researchers – which could be due to its whistle.
“The advertisement call that the males of this species produce are very unique, no other known species of frog has a similar call, and this was indeed one of the traits that we used for the justification of it being a completely new species,” and it “could have played a role in its going undetected prior,” said Kubicki.
This is the first glass frog discovered in Costa Rica since 1973.
Glass Frogs – According to National Geographic, ‘Glass frogs, found in Central and South America rain forests, live high in tree canopies near streams and creeks, descending when it’s time to breed. The glass frog’s name originates from its translucent, organ-revealing bellies. Their green coloration, on the other hand, helps the nocturnal frogs stay camouflaged on the undersides of leaves during the day.’
We are familiar with amphibians and reptiles that can change color, but this frog can actually change the texture of its skin! This unique feature makes it the only vertebrate known to do so.
Dubbed the ‘Punk Rocker’ frog, or Pristimantis mutabilis, the marble-sized amphibian lives in the rain forest of Ecuador. It was discovered by scientist Katherine Krynak in 2009. According to National Geographic, Krynak spotted the frog while on a nighttime walk, and decided to bring the thorny specimen back for closer observation. Once she got home, she saw the frog was slimy and smooth, not what she expected! Eventually, the spines reemerged, and Krynak realized she had made an incredible discovery.
Scientists believe the shifting skin texture serves as a form of camouflage in the wild, helping the frog blend into its mossy environment.
After 9 years, Krynak and her colleagues finally gathered enough data to prove it was a new species. Now, the frog finally has a formal name: the mutable rainfrog, or Pristimantis mutabilis. But, we’re going to keep calling it the ‘Punk Rocker’ frog 🙂