Deep in the jungles of Ecuador lives a creature with pale, pink eyes, long, sticky webbed fingers, greenish-gray skin and a black and yellow speckled belly. At first glance, it seems like a creature one would find in a fantasy world. And that's precisely the reason researchers decided to name the newly-discovered stream frog after the Father of Modern Fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien.
"In a stream in the forest, there lived a Hyloscirtus. Not a nasty, dirty stream, with spoor of contamination and a muddy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy stream with nothing in it to perch on or to eat: it was a Hyloscirtus-stream, and that means environmental quality," say the study authors in the recent study, published in the journal ZooKeys (adapted from the opening of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien).
The Finding of the Frog
The frog, Hyloscirtus tolkieni (or, the Río Negro Stream Frog), lives in the pristine waters that flow from the mountains through the Río Negro-Sopladora National Park — which was only recently declared a natural preserve and protected area in 2018.
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Researchers Juan C. Sánchez-Nivicela, José M. Falcón-Reibán and Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia named the frog after their mutual love for Tolkien — who is most notable for writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. According to a press release, the vibrant colors of the frog reminded the researchers of the magnificent creatures from Tolkien's fantasy world.
Researchers have been exploring the park since 2020 and uncovered several species previously unknown to science. According to a press release, the park is located in the south of Ecuador and contains large forested areas that have yet to be studied.
"For weeks, we explored different areas of the Río Negro-Sopladora National Park, walking from paramo grasslands at 3,100 meters [about 10,200 feet] elevation to forests at 1,000 m [3280 feet]. We found a single individual of this new species of frog, which we found impressive due to its colouration and large size," says Sánchez-Nivicela, associate researcher at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and co-author of the study — where the frog is described.
What Makes the Río Negro Stream Frog so Precious
One can easily distinguish the Río Negro Stream Frog from its cousins by size and color. It's larger by frog standards, about two and a half inches long, compared to other Ecuadorian frogs like the glass frog, which is about one and one-quarter inches long.
Besides the pale pink eyes, the Río Negro Stream Frog has a gray-green back and a golden-yellow underside. Black spots cover its belly, mouth and toes. According to the press release, the frog also has black bars and spots on its fingers and toes and broad skin stripes.
"The truth is that the tropical Andes are magical ecosystems where some of the most wonderful species of flora, funga and fauna in the world are present. Unfortunately, few areas are well protected from the negative impacts caused by humans. Deforestation, unsustainable agricultural expansion, mining, invasive species, and climate changes are seriously affecting Andean biodiversity," says Cisneros-Heredia, director of the Museum of Zoology of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and co-author of the study.
Researchers have only studied one frog, stating that more research is needed to better understand the frog's habitat and life history. Because nearly 57 percent of Ecuadorian amphibian species are threatened by extinction, researchers say it's vital to explore new habitats where these frogs may exist and assess if long-term conservation methods need to be put into place to protect them.