Green-blooded, Turquoise-boned Species of Frog Discovered

FII Press Release

Cambridge, Phnom Penh – 18 December, 2008 – A ‘new-to-science’ species of frog, with green blood and turquoise-coloured bones, has been discovered in Cambodia’s remote Cardamom Mountains by international conservation organisation Fauna & Flora International (FFI).

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The Samkos bush frog (scientific name Chiromantis samkosensis) is thought to be extremely rare. Its strange coloured bones and blood are caused by the pigment biliverdin, a waste product usually processed in the liver. In this species, the biliverdin is passed back into the blood giving it a green colour; a phenomenon also seen in some lizards. The green biliverdin is visible through the frog’s thin, translucent skin, making it even better camouflaged and possibly even causing it to taste unpalatable to predators.

The new frog is just one of four new-to-science frog species discovered by FFI in Cambodia. The Cardamom bush frog (Philautus cardamonus) and Smith’s frog (Rana faber) are named after the cardamom plant and in honour of the British herpetologist Malcolm Smith, respectively. The Aural horned frog (Megophrys auralensis) is so named due to the short horn-like protrusions above its eyes. These species have only ever been seen in the peaks of the Cardamom Mountains.

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Fauna & Flora International consultant naturalist and photographer Jeremy Holden, who discovered the Samkos bush frog, said: ‘When I found the frog, I had a thrilling suspicion that we were looking at an entirely new species of amphibian. Photographing these frogs has been a challenge. They were extremely difficult to find, but thanks to their distinctive calls we managed to get some excellent shots and record them for posterity.’

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FFI’s Senior Conservation Biologist, Jenny Daltry, was the first scientist to discover Smith’s frog: ‘Finding a new species is always exciting, but really it’s just the start of many more questions. What sort of habitat does it need? How does it reproduce? Is it endangered? There is no doubt in my mind that there are new species waiting to be discovered in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains. FFI will continue to carry out surveys and strive to protect this incredibly rich and diverse area.’

When FFI began their surveys in the Cardamom Mountains in 2000, the entire national amphibian list stood at only nine species, hardly more than we have in the UK. Since then, FFI surveys have brought to light more than 40 species that had not been recorded in Cambodia before. Cambodia’s national list of amphibians now stands at 63 species. The announcement of the new frog species coincides with the publication of Cambodia’s first field guide to amphibians. Its publication is particularly timely, given the serious threats facing amphibians around the world which led to 2008 being named the “Year of the Frog”. The 130 page field guide, published by FFI in October this year and entitled “A Field Guide to the Amphibians of Cambodia”, contains stunning photographs of each species and represents the culmination of eight years of field research by FFI in the country. The guide was authored by Jeremy Holden and Cambodian herpetologist Neang Thy, who has worked with FFI since 2004.

Cambodia is a rare jewel in the crown of biodiversity in Asia. Much of the country’s wildlife is only just coming to light, and many species have been discovered here in recent years. The jungles of the Cardamom Mountains, where the new frog species were found, were a stronghold of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge forces from the early 1970s until 1998 and are believed to contain the highest levels of biodiversity in the country. Alongside their conservation efforts in the field, FFI has been working to help build the technical capacity of Cambodian scientists. The organization started the country’s first Masters programme (in Biodiversity Conservation) in 2005, which has so far enrolled over 100 postgraduates, with support from the UK’s Darwin Initiative. The Cambodian Journal of Natural History was launched by FFI in September this year, featuring articles by both Cambodian and international conservation scientists on the country’s littleknown wildlife. FFI also helped to establish Cambodia’s first natural history museum and herbarium in 2006. The recently published A Field Guide to the Amphibians of Cambodia is FFI’s latest contribution to this ongoing work programme.

Fast facts about the Samkos bush frog (Chiromantis samkosensis):

  • Chiromantis samkosensis was first seen by FFI in a survey in 2000 but was only formally recorded by scientists as being a new species last year.
  • The first individual was found in the foothills of Mount Samkos, Cambodia’s second highest mountain, in the remote jungles of the Cardamom Mountains.
  • The individual was a male, which makes a distinctive rising trill of notes unlike other species in the genus. Without hearing the call, it would be extremely difficult to find the tiny and well camouflaged frog.

Green blood and turquoise bones:

  • The frog’s strange coloured bones and blood are caused by the pigment biliverdin, a waste product usually processed in the liver. In this species, the biliverdin is passed back into the blood giving it a green colour.
  • • The green biliverdin is visible through the frog’s thin, translucent skin, making it even better camouflaged and possibly even causing it to taste unpalatable to predators. The phenomenon is also seen in some lizards.

Further encounters:

  • Two more individuals were found in 2006 in a small forest pond in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary. Unfortunately, shortly after this discovery the pond was destroyed in a road building scheme. This demonstrates how vulnerable amphibians are to human impacts.
  • A dedicated FFI expedition in 2008 to look for more Samkos bush frogs could find only one individual, which was perched on a reed above the road where its breeding pond used to be.
  • It appears the species is highly localized, breeding in temporary rain pools in evergreen forest at around 500 metres above sea level. Nothing else is known about its ecology.

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Notes to Editors:

An English version of the book “A Field Guide to the Amphibians of Cambodia” is
available from FFI for the price of £27 (US$40)
. It has also been published in Khmer.
The cost of publishing the book was covered by a small grant from the DEFRA Flagship
Species Fund, and by DEFRA’s Darwin initiative and the Zoological Parks and Gardens
Board Victoria, Australia.

About Fauna & Flora International (FFI) (www.fauna-flora.org)
FFI protects threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are
sustainable, based on sound science and take account of human needs. Operating in
more than 40 countries worldwide – mainly in the developing world – FFI saves species
from extinction and habitats from destruction, while improving the livelihoods of local
people. Founded in 1903, FFI is the world’s longest established international
conservation body and a registered charity.

For high resolution images of the four new frog species – the only photographic
evidence of the creatures known to exist – or for an interview with either Jenny
Daltry, FFI Senior Conservation Biologist, or Jeremy Holden, FFI consultant
naturalist and photographer, please contact:

Jilly McNaughton
FFI Communications Manager
Tel: +44 (0)1223 579 473
Mobile: +44 (0)7533 344058

Jilly.mcnaughton@fauna-flora.org
Rebecca Foges
FFI Communications Officer
Tel: +44 (0)1223 579 491
rebecca.foges@fauna-flora.org

Kirtland Peterson

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