Scientists have discovered a new species of poison frog on the Amazonian slopes of the Andes in southeastern Peru.

The species was found in just nine locales in the buffer zones of Manu National Park and the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, at the transition between montane forests and the lowlands, from 340 to 850 meters (1,115 to 2,788 feet) above sea level.

The species is commonly known as the Amarakaeri poison frog. Its scientific name is Ameerega shihuemoy — with the species name, shihuemoy, being the native Harakmbut word for “poison dart frog.” The Amarakaeri are an indigenous people from Amazonian Peru; their language belongs to the Harakmbut linguistic group.

“We wanted to highlight the existence of this area for the world when we named this species,”
Jennifer Serrano, the lead author of a paper describing the species in the journal Zootaxa, told Mongabay.

The region that the Amarakaeri poison frog calls home is considered one of the most biodiverse on the planet for herpetofauna, but it is also threatened by human activities, including agriculture, gold mining, logging, and an illegally constructed road meant for the transport of fuel for illegal miners and loggers in the area, according to Serrano.

A. shihuemoy’s appearance is not dissimilar to other species in the genus Ameerega, though it does bear some distinguishing characteristics that helped Serrano and team identify the species as distinct.

“The beauty of this poison frog is astonishing,”
Serrano said.
“It has a black dorsum with cream to bright orange dorsolateral stripes and a blue venter with black marbling. It lacks axillary, thigh and calf flash marks present in other poison frogs.”

The life stages of Ameerega shihuemoy. Photo by Marcus Brent-Smith/Crees Foundation.
The life stages of Ameerega shihuemoy. Photo by Marcus Brent-Smith/Crees Foundation.

In addition to a morphological comparison, the researchers also used a DNA analysis and an assessment of the frog’s advertisement calls to determine that it does indeed belong to its own species. They also studied the species’ habitat selection to examine which environmental variables explain its distribution, finding that a large number of potential refuges, usually formed by a high quantity of large rocks, as well as a great amount of leaf litter, the presence of still bodies of water, and a low stream flow, which likely benefits the frog’s breeding strategy, were the key predictors of A. shihuemoy’s presence.

Like other poison frog species, A. shihuemoy adults are very attentive parents. After females deposit their eggs inside of crevices or caves, males guard the eggs, keeping them clean and moist. Once the eggs hatch and the conditions are right, males then carry their newly hatched tadpoles on their back to a body of water, which they choose carefully to ensure the tadpoles can develop without being threatened by too many predators.

“One day we found a male who was looking after 25 eggs,”
Serrano said.
“This male displayed parental care behaviour by positioning himself in front of the eggs to defend them from my approach. It was such amazing behaviour that showed me how marvellous these poison frogs are, in risking their lives to protect their offspring.”

Based on IUCN Red List criteria, Serrano and team propose that A. shihuemoy likely qualifies as Near Threatened.

“However, the increasing of human disturbance could result in the reduction of the number of known populations and the area of occupancy of A. shihuemoy and, as such, could very quickly need to be classified as threatened,” Serrano added. “Furthermore, the discovery of a new species underscores the need of continued habitat protection, not just inside the protected areas of the region, but also within the buffer zone of the Manu Biosphere Reserve.”


CITATION

  • Serrano-Rojas, S., Whitworth, A., Villacampa, J., May, R., Padial, J., & Chaparro, J. (2017). A new species of poison-dart frog (Anura: Dendrobatidae) from Manu province, Amazon region of southeastern Peru, with notes on its natural history, bioacoustics, phylogenetics, and recommended conservation status. Zootaxa, 4221(1), 71–94. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4221.1.3

Article published by Mike Gaworecki on 2017-01-17.

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