Endangered species

Scientists match unusual tadpoles to threatened horned frogs

written by Oceanographic Staff

Zoological Society of London (ZSL) scientists, alongside experts from Indo-Myanmar Conservation, The Australian Museum and Hoang Lien National Park, have identified the tadpoles of six species of Asian horned frogs found in Vietnam’s mountain forests.

There are more than 270 native species of frog and toad in Vietnam, which makes the process of figuring out which tadpoles become which adult frog is extremely challenging.

“Frogs and their tadpoles look nothing like each other but it’s important to know which tadpole becomes which frog.” said lead author Benjamin Tapley, ZSL’s Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians. “It helps us detect the presence of a species, especially as adult frogs can be seasonally active and difficult to find, and allows us to identify which places might be important frog breeding sites that need protection.”

Asian horned frogs

The research team collected geographical data, took photos and morphological measurements of tadpoles, and compared their DNA to samples from adults of known frog species. After analysis, they  identified and described the tadpoles of six different species, which all belong to the genus Megophrys – also known as Asian horned frogs. The identified species include: the Jingdong horned frog, the Maoson horned frog, the Mount Fanispan horned frog, the Giant horned frog, the Annam horned frog and the Hoang Lien horned frog.

“Horned frog tadpoles are extraordinary looking, with highly-specialised mouth parts which allow them to feed on small particles suspended at the surface of the water.” said Tapley.  “This adaptation means that the tadpoles can feed in parts of the water column that other tadpoles are unable to.”

Asian horned frogs

“The more we study Asian horned frogs, the more we learn how diverse and under threat they are,” added Tapley. “These frogs occur in some of the most exploited forests on earth and are suffering from rapid habitat loss and degradation. Some of the species we have discovered in recent years are only found in a very small area which makes them inherently vulnerable to extinction from habitat loss or stochastic events.”

The current global pandemic has resulted in a serious lack of funding for the ZSL’s scientific and conservation work and research. Click here to donate and keep ZSL scientists investigating the natural world and wildlife diseases. 

Photography by Benjamin Tapley, courtesy of ZSL.

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