Scientists searching for “lost amphibians” have discovered the Old World’s smallest frog, living in carnivorous pitcher plants in the jungles of Borneo.
As in the Dr. Seuss fable Horton Hears a Who, the pea-sized creatures were detected only because of the sound they made.
According to Malaysian herpetologist Indaeil Das, who discovered the frog with his colleague Alexander Haas of Germany, it was the wee beasties’ “harsh rasping notes” at dusk that drew their attention.
“We heard the calls of this frog and we knew the calls of all frogs in the area and this was different,” Das told AFP. ”At first we couldn’t see it, but eventually we found it. I had to trap the frog in one of my baby son’s clean white diapers in order to really see what it looked like, it was so tiny.”
“You often get tiny frogs making quite a noise,” confirmed herpetologist Robin Moore, who is leading expeditions worldwide bent on rediscovering a hundred species of “lost amphibians” declared extinct. Das will join Moore in Indonesia in September, to search for the Sambas stream toad, last seen in the 1950s.
The frog heard by Haas and Das had not previously been classified; museum specimens collected more than a hundred years ago were misidentified as juveniles of another species.
The frog has been dubbed Microhyla nepenthicola, in honor of the Nepenthes ampullaria species of miniature pitcher plant that it needs to breed.
Although the micro-beast is “definitely the tiniest [frog] in Asia, Africa and Europe,” says Das, it is not as small as this frog, Eleutherodactylus iberia, which lives in Cuba, and as yet has no English common name.