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Two new species of moss frog discovered

By: Dr Jodi Rowley, Category: Science, Date: 16 Nov 2011

The mist-shrouded mountains of Vietnam reveal two new species of moss frog.

Habitat of Misty Moss Frog

Jodi J. L. Rowley © Jodi J. L. Rowley/Australian Museum

Southeast Asian amphibians are both poorly known and highly threatened. That's the biggest reason that my colleagues and I spend weeks searching the montane forests of the region, discovering and documenting the amazing diversity of the amphibians found there. It's a vital first step towards amphibian conservation in the region. 

Our most recent discoveries are two small moss frogs (genus Theloderma). Moss frogs are called moss frogs because they generally have bumpy skin and are camouflaged as greenish moss or brownish tree bark (and there's also one that looks like bird poo...). Such camouflage is handy when you live in mossy trees in the forest and are likely very tasty to an array of forest predators such as snakes and birds.

The new species are small (<3 cm body length), have effective camouflage and spend most of their time up trees, making them pretty tricky to spot in the forest at night, which is probably one of the reasons they have remained undiscovered until now. That and the fact that reaching their habitat often involves a rather arduous, near-vertical trek up a mountain!

The Misty Moss Frog Theloderma nebulosum (below) is named after it's mist-shrouded habitat on the Kon Tum Plateau, in Vietnam (top image). Although located in the tropics, its habitat is so cold at night that we found it impossible to sleep (not that amphibian biologists sleep at night...).

Misty Moss Frog

The Cloaked Moss Frog Theloderma palliatum is named after its ability to change from a dull, mottled brown (below) to a bold, high-contrast pattern (further below - the same individual!). Quite a magic trick (or uncloaking, if you will)!

Cloaked Moss Frog

Cloaked Moss Frog

Both new species are likely to occur in relatively small areas of high-elevation forest on the Kon Tum plateau (Misty Moss Frog) and Langbian plateau (Cloaked Moss Frog) and are vulnerable to threats such as habitat loss and over-collection (moss frogs are popular in the international pet-trade). Both regions contain high amphibian diversity and many unique amphibians that occur nowhere else- truly special areas that thankfully contain a number of important protected areas.

Read more about the amphibian research and conservation carried out by the research team here. See the abstract of the scientific publication describing the new species here.

Tags herpetology, Rhacophoridae, species discovery, biodiversity conservation, Vietnam, Viet Nam, amphibians, anura, Australian Museum Research Institute, forest, animal,