Researchers from Case Western Reserve University published a report about a previously unknown rain frog species inhabiting the Andes Mountains in Ecuador that can mimic the aspect of the environment it sits on. In just a matter of minutes, the rain frog can change its skin texture from smooth to spiny, a feature never encountered before in amphibians.
The scientists named their discovery Pristimantis mutabilis, which literally means “mutable rain frog.” The peculiar frog was discovered by Tim and Katherine Krynak, husband and wife, both working for the Cleveland university. They have voluntarily dedicated to the project ten years ago, and during this time they have been exploring the Choco protected cloud forest reserve in Ecuador.
The scientist couple argued that their discovery can only be considered “new” from a certain perspective. An already known relative of the shape-shifting frog possesses the same capabilities, although until now there were no reports of the frogs actually changing their skin texture.
Researchers first laid their eyes upon the mutable frog in 2006, but it took them three years to remark its shape-shifting features. Katherine Krynak described how amazed she was when the team finally realized what they found. “We took a specimen back to the house in a cup to photograph it, and when we looked in the morning, we thought we had grabbed the wrong frog,” Krynak said.
They put it in the can, but when they got home with the specimen and opened the lid, the spines were gone and its skin was smooth. I then put the frog back in the cup and added some moss. The spines came back… we simply couldn’t believe our eyes, our frog changed skin texture! Krynak enthusiastically wrote in the report.
The scientists hope to discover if the traits present in both P. mutabilis and its known relative P. sobetes come from a common ancestor. If more species possesing the same shape-shifting ability are not discovered soon, then the researchers assume the two rain frogs developed their features independently, as a step to adapt to their environment. “Either these two different species from two different clades evolved the same trait, or all species had it and then lost the trait,” Dr. Krynak believes.
The 20 to 23 millimeters long frog seems to activate its camouflage mechanism while sitting in mossy surroundings, plenty of which can be found in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. Tiny spike-like tubercles appear on the rain frog’ skin around moss, and they quickly recede once put on smooth surface.
Image Source: Daily Mail