Discovered in the cold, wet forest near the top of Mount Fansipan this little frog may already be in trouble.
With 3.5 m of rain or snow per year, and almost constant fog, conditions near the top of Mount Fansipan, the highest mountain in Indochina, are rather terrible for humans. This may be one reason that this new species, Botsford’s Leaf-litter Frog, was only just discovered!
I’m an amphibian biologist passionate about discovering and documenting the diversity, ecology and conservation status of amphibians in Southeast Asia. Usually my amphibian surveys are in remote mountains, but Mount Fansipan is far from remote. Located in northern Vietnam, Mount Fansipan is a tourist destination for adventurous holidaymakers. Hordes of tourists camp at 2,800 m every night, resting up for their climb to the peak (3,134 m) the next morning.
Despite the tourists, the amphibians of Mount Fansipan are very poorly-known, and so mid-last year, my colleagues and I surveyed decided to help rectify that. At night, we ventured out of the tin hut we were staying in, to search for amphibians. The fog made it impossible to see more than a few meters in front of us, but through the noise of the wind I could detect a faint chirping.
Now, most people would dismiss this faint call as a cricket or other insect. However, I am particularly fond of Asian Leaf-litter frogs, and I instantly recognised the call as belonging to this group of frogs. What species it was, I didn’t know. So, while others explored the stream and found many species of frogs, I spent almost two hours in one spot trying to find the frog, much of it sifting through the leaves on the forest floor.
I was wet and shivering, but triumphant, as I finally located a single small, brown Asian Leaf-litter frog, just as I had expected- only fatter! I guess it makes sense to have a little energy stored for the winter when you live in such a cold, wet place!
Detailed comparisons back at the Australian Museum confirmed that this frog is an undescribed species. Compared to other species in the group, Botsford’s Asian Leaf-litter Frog is more ‘robust', has much bigger white spots on the thigh, and has a unique call. It’s also known from higher elevations.
While it’s only just become known to science, this little frog is likely to be in trouble. So far, it’s only known from a small stream near the top of Mount Fansipan, littered with garbage and polluted by run-off from the camp and its toilets. The vegetation around the stream is also very disturbed, and climate change is likely to impact on this cold-adapted frog in the future. Like many frog species in Southeast Asia, we don’t know much about Botsford’s Asian Leaf-litter Frog, but we really hope that knowing that just this little frog exists will be the first step towards its conservation.
• Jodi J. L. Rowley, Vinh Quang Dau & Tao Thien Nguyen (2013) A new species of Leptolalax (Anura: Megophryidae) from the highest mountain in Indochina. Zootaxa. 3737: 415–428. abstract
• Huge thanks to ADM Capital Foundation and Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong.
• This discovery is part of a collaboration between the Australian Museum and the Vietnam National Museum of Nature.