A tiny and elusive new species of terrestrial frog has been discovered living in a privately owned nature reserve in South Western Ecuador. Pristimantis prometeii was named in tribute to the Prometeo project funded by the Ecuadorian government which made the exploration possible. The name of the Prometeo project itself stems from the Greek god Prometheus, who in ancient mythology gifted mankind with tools and fire making him an icon frequently associated with science and technology. A grand association for this little amphibian!
The discovery was due to collaboration between three Romanian Prometeo investigators and two Ecuadorian specialists from Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador. In the words of corresponding author Dan Cogălniceanu, the species was found via “luck, backed by a lot of work.” This hard work included weeks of scouring the jungle, primarily by night, whilst trying to avoid venomous snakes and large cats which, unfortunately for the researchers, also happen to be nocturnal…
The new species of frog described in the paper reaches just 2-3cm and spends its days hiding in flowering plants or foliage. This species is part of the “land living frogs” which are able to conduct their entire life cycle without a water stage. Unlike other frogs, offspring of this newly discovered species develop from embryos to froglets entirely on land.
Whilst this latest finding is extremely exciting, recent statistics, from 2015, show that in the last decade there have been 121 new species of Pristimantis described. Ecuador is a major hotspot for biodiversity with one of the highest levels of amphibian diversity in the world. Every year there are about 10 new species of amphibians described. The fast growing genus Pristimantis has the highest number of species among terrestrial vertebrates, with about 480 species known at present. It is highly probable that there are a great number of new species still to be discovered.
Findings of this nature greatly emphasise the importance of conservation efforts and continued research into biodiversity. In the inspirational words of author Dan Cogălniceanu; “Regarding conservation, I don’t believe it’s an option anymore, it’s a must. It has its ups and downs, but it’s about our survival and the survival of the life-supporting planet of ours.”