The Andes that run along western South America has some of the most biologically diverse spots in the region. And near the Guayllabamba river, just 10 miles from Ecuador's capital city, Quito, two newly identified species of glass frogs were discovered...
As unreal as they look, these fascinating amphibians are, in fact, an important part of their tropical ecosystem. One of the two species, called Hyalinobatrachium mashpi, lives on the southern edge of the river, while the other kind, Hyalinobatrachium nouns, inhabits the northern parts of the valley of the Toisan Range. Both species are between 1.9 and 2.1 centimeters (0.75 and 0.83 inches) long and appear to be almost identical, with green backs covered in tiny spots. And their defining feature? A transparent belly that reveals a red heart, a textured white liver, and digestive system - and for females, a pouch of green eggs.
The two species look so similar that scientists at first didn't spot a difference in their characteristics. "At first, when we started to collect them, we thought they were the same species," said Juan Manuel Guayasamin, an evolutionary biologist at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, and lead author on the paper that identified the new species. But he added that, upon analyzing the frogs' DNA more closely, he was "surprised to learn they actually sport large genetic differences." He mentioned that, despite living in close proximity to one another, the two species never mixed. "What we are thinking is that the valley has kept these frogs from mixing with each other," he added.
Their identification highlights the biodiversity of the Andes. "The topography here is quite complex, with many unexplored niches and hard-to-reach areas, so endemism is very high," explained Andrea Teran, a herpetologist at Jambatu Research Center in Quito, who wasn't involved in the study. "Actually, when you talk about amphibians in Ecuador, the most diverse spot is the Andes, not the Amazon." And although the region might be rich in various fascinating wildlife, it may not stay that way for long if humanity doesn't work together to protect the endangered species that inhabit the Andes. The International Union for Conservation of Nature already recognizes 10 glass frog species as critically endangered, 28 as endangered, and 21 as vulnerable to extinction. However, it's too soon to tell the conservation status of the new species. Stay tuned for more updates.