Our beautiful new frog species, Hyloscirtus sethmacfarlanei, is officially published today

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Adult female Hyloscirtus sethmacfarlanei photographed on Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Today, Sept 29 2022, four years after our discovery of the most beautiful frog we had ever seen, we and our Ecuadorian and international colleagues have finally published its formal scientific description:

https://peerj.com/articles/14066/#

This is a very rare frog found only at high elevations in a remote part of our Machay Reserve (the subject of World Land Trust‘s “Forests in the Sky” appeal in 2015), so it took us these four years to find enough individuals to make a thorough description of it. (We still have only found four individuals, about one per year.) The team involved in the description included experts in morphology, genetics, frog osteology (bones), and biogeographic modeling, and also included two EcoMinga wardens whose sharp eyes and curiosity led to the discovery in the first place.

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Juvenile Hyloscirtus sethmacfarlanei, Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga

This is much more than a beautiful frog. Those bright red and black colors are, like the colors of a monarch butterfly, warning predators that this would be a very bad choice for a meal. Some non-poisonous animals also have such warning colors, hoping to fool a predator, but this frog is the real thing, as our EcoMinga guards Darwin and Fausto (Tito) Recalde discovered when they caught and handled the adult female in the first photograph above. Their hands and fingers, and even Darwin’s elbows, started to itch and tingle, and the pain continued even several hours after they had put the frog down. The juveniles are bright yellow and they also exude an unpleasant substance from their skin.

We were very interested in knowing when this species diverged from its relatives. Had it evolved during the Pleistocene inter-glacial warm periods, when high elevation species would have moved higher up mountains and would have formed small “island” populations? As the paper explains, we were able to answer that question, and the answer surprised us. With high confidence, this species diverged from its relatives more than five million years ago; our best estimate is a divergence time of nine million years +/- four million years. This is even older than the last major uplift of the Ecuadorian Andes. To put this in perspective, that is slightly more than the divergence time between humans and chimps. This is a very distinctive species.

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Ecuador’s Acting Minister of the Environment, Bianca Dager, photographing the new species in Banos. Credit: El Comercio

At the request of the Rainforest Trust, we named this species after Seth MacFarlane, the famous television producer, perhaps best known for “Family Guy”. He is a passionate conservationist and supporter of nature around the world. We are proud to honor him for those efforts, and grateful to Rainforest Trust for helping to fund management of our reserves.

This video was taken by me the day after the discovery of the species, close to the site of its capture.

In the following days I will upload a dialogue with all the authors, including first-person accounts of the effects of the frog’s toxins.

Lou Jost, President, Fundacion EcoMinga.