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Researchers discover new poison dart frog in Panama

Scientists used DNA analysis to confirm that the bright orange specimen was indeed a new species.

By Brooks Hays
Researchers discover new poison dart frog in Panama
A new frog species, Andinobates geminisae, is discovered in Panama. (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)

DONOSO, Panama, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- Andinobates geminisae, a newly discovered poison dart frog species, is both loud and quiet -- loud in that its body is colored a garish bright orange, and quiet in that the frog is exceptionally tiny and limited to a worrisomely small range of habitat.

The miniature frog was discovered in 2011 by Samuel Valdes and his field assistant Carlos de la Cruz. At the time, Valdes was the environmental office director for MWH Global Inc., a water engineering company. Additional specimens of the frog have since been collected and studied by researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Universidad Autonoma de Chiriqui, both based in Panama, as well as the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia.

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Several specimens were collected by biologists Marcos Ponce and Abel Batista from the headwaters of the Rio Cano, a river that runs through the district of Donoso, in Panama's Colon Province. The majority of the specimens were left in the care of the Museo de Vertebrados at the University of Panama.

"Abel Batista and Marcos Ponce were the first to note the presence of this species," Cesar Jaramillo, Smithsonian herpetologist, said in a press release. "They've known it was there for several years. However, they were not sure if it was only a variety of another poison dart frog species, Oophaga pumilio, which exhibits tremendous color variation. Based on morphological characteristics of the adult and the tadpole, I thought it might be a new species of Andinobates."

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Scientists used DNA analysis to confirm that the bright orange specimen was indeed a new species -- a new member of the genus Andinobates, a group of poison dart frogs native to South America.

Like so many other newly discovered species, the frog in already under threat. Researchers say its habitat is shrinking and that it's likely to be targeted by the pet trade collectors. The frog could also be a potential victim of the spreading chytrid fungal disease. Scientists say more ambitious conservation programs are necessary to save endangered amphibians like the Andinobates geminisae. Some specimens have already become part of a captive breeding program at cooperating zoos and laboratories in Panama.

The discovery of Andinobates geminisae was detailed this week in the online journal Zootaxa.

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