New frog species is part punk rocker

This new frog species is part punk rocker, but it has its smooth moments, too. Photo courtesy of Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society
This new frog species is part punk rocker, but it has its smooth moments too. Photo: Courtesy of Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

A frog that can rapidly change its skin texture from smooth to spiky depending on its surroundings was discovered in the Andes of Ecuador, making it the first documented vertebrate to display this trait, according to a scientific report published this week.

When researchers Tim and Katherine Krynak first discovered the new frog species in the Reserva Las Gralarias in 2006, it was in its spiky, thorny state, so they nicknamed it "punk-rocker frog."

It wasn't until three years later that they discovered the magical transformational trait the newly dubbed mutable rain frog (Pristimantis mutabilis ) possessed.

"I found the punk rocker!" Katherine had exclaimed, according to her first-person recollection of the discovery on Amphibians.org.

"We collected it without hesitation," she wrote. "We routinely collect frogs we can't easily identify in the field, bringing them back to the guesthouse and photographing them before returning them to the same location we found them."

But a funny thing happened when they went to photograph the frog in the morning: It was smooth.

"That's not the frog I collected," Katherine had said.

This new frog species turns from spiky to smooth in minutes. Photo courtesy of Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society
This new frog species turns from spiky to smooth in minutes. Photo: Courtesy of Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

More from Katherine's first-person account:

Annoyed with myself, I placed the frog back in the cup, adding a little moss to make it a more comfortable home until we could return him to the forest.

"I must have picked up the wrong frog," I muttered.

Tim and I had been searching for another one of these frogs for years now, and here I had picked up the WRONG frog! I was angry at myself, and confused about how I could have actually done that.

A few minutes later, they checked on the frog and the spikes had grown back.

"We couldn't believe our eyes," she wrote. "We had never heard of a frog changing its texture."

It did so in a matter of minutes.

This new frog species is part punk rocker, but it has its smooth moments, too. Photo courtesy of Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society
This new frog species is part punk rocker, but it has its smooth moments too. Photo: Courtesy of Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

The Krynaks and scientists from the Universidad Indoamérica and Tropical Herping in Ecuador co-authored the manuscript describing the new frog species and skin-texture plasticity in the "Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society" this week.

They believe the discovery will have implications for how species are identified in the future. The process may now require photographs and longer observations in the field to ensure one species is not mistakenly perceived as two, especially since a known relative to the mutable "punk rocker" rain frog was recently found to share the same texture-changing ability.

Katherine believes the frog changes its skin texture to reflect its surroundings and help camouflage itself from birds and other predators.

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