Yes, I know. That frog is in fact on a U.S. dime. Scientists have discovered the world’s tiniest known frog species, which also happens to be the smallest vertebrate in existence. Lacking a common name, this species is known only by its scientific name of Paedophryne amauensis.
The species was found in Papua New Guinea and officially announced in 2012. An American team of biologists led by Christoper Austin dug through piles of decomposing leaves on the rain forest floor until they found the tiny critters. The minute specimens are dark brown with black splotches, and are so tiny they can barely be seen with the naked eye, especially against the leaf litter piles in which they live. A digital camera was needed to observe them up close. In addition to their size and camouflage, the frogs are fast hoppers. They are able to jump more than 30 times their body lengths, which incidentally is only 7.7 mm on average, making them the smallest vertebrates on the planet – and hard to photograph!
Other small frogs have been discovered recently too, including Paedophryne swiftorum. “I think it’s amazing that they’re continuing to find smaller and smaller frogs,” says Robin Moore, an amphibian specialist. According to him, the frogs are evolving to fill a niche that nothing else is filling. They likely adapted to be able to eat tiny invertebrates ignored by larger predators, such as mites.
The frog’s tiny size is complemented by its high-pitched mating call. You can listen to it below:
Sadly, these intriguing frogs are in danger of extinction for many of the usual reasons. Deforestation and habitat destruction are wiping out rain forests around the world in droves and making it much more difficult to find suitable places to live for these beautiful species.
Another danger faces amphibians as a whole – Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. This chytrid fungus targets amphibians and essentially makes their skin thicker, which is devastating to these creatures; amphibians breathe and absorb water and nutrients through their skin, and the disease makes this essentially impossible. The fungal infection is easily spread when one diseased frog comes in contact with a healthy one, and scientists are very worried about it. Whole amphibian species are facing mass extinction. Researchers are working on cures but still have not found a way to protect amphibians as a group.
P. amauensis is one species in danger of chytridiomycosis. If you want to learn more about this deadly fungal infection, check here.
Overall, this is a fascinating species. It can jump with lighting speed, blend into a pile of leaves, and fit on a dime with plenty of space to spare. It takes the record for smallest back-boned creature known to man and is just plain cute. I hope scientists learn more about this teeny critter and find a way to protect it. Also, I hope they decide on a common name for the species soon because Paedophryne amauensis is a mouthful for anyone!
For more information on P. amauensis or P. swiftorum, read the original research report published by Austin in January 2012.