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First Shape-shifting Amphibian Found in Andes Mountains

A frog the size of a fingernail that can morph its skin texture from spiny to smooth in the matter of minutes is the first shape-shifting amphibian ever to be discovered, according to a new report.

The tiny “mutable rain frog” (Pristimantis mutabilis) was found on the western slopes of Ecuador’s Andes Mountains, in a protected cloud forest reserve. The misty, fog-covered Chocó cloud forest serves as a biodiversity hot spot, and the protected area, Reserva Las Gralarias, is also home to several rare bird and butterfly species. A new glass frog species, the Las Gralarias glass frog, was reported to be seen there in 2012.

Scientists from Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Metroparks discovered the shape-shifting frog during their annual survey of the reserve’s amphibian population. Over the past 10 years, Katherine Krynak, a biologist and Case Western graduate student, and Tim Krynak, a naturalist and Metroparks project manager, have walked the reserve trails at night in an attempt to scan for rare species and listen for frog calls.

The Krynaks volunteer their time and also support the reserve with a private nonprofit foundation, Discovery News reported.

The pair first saw the frog in 2006 but only got a picture, but later realized it could be a newfound species when they enlarged the image. They dubbed the frog a “punk rocker” for its spiny-textured skin. “It wasn’t until we saw the amazing texture of its skin that we thought, ‘wow, this is something different,'” Katherine Krynak told Live Science.

A female mutable rain frog is just 0.8 to 0.9 inches in length and males are even tinier, the new study reports. The rain frogs are a species-rich group that skips the tadpole stage and develops into frogs directly within their eggs, Discovery News reported.

The new discovery showcases the importance of describing the behavior of new species, and backs the argument for preserving amphibian habitats, Katherine Krynak said. Amphibian populations are declining worldwide, and the Reserva Las Gralarias region is under threat from agriculture and cattle farming, she said.

“Amphibians are declining so rapidly that scientists are oftentimes describing new species from museum specimens because the animals have already gone extinct in the wild, and very recently,” Katherine Krynak said.

First Shape-shifting Amphibian Found in Andes Mountains

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