from the kamouflaged-kermit dept.
Carrie Arnold reports at National Geographic that on a nighttime walk through Reserva Las Gralarias in Ecuador in 2009, Katherine Krynak spotted a well-camouflaged, marble-size amphibian that was covered in spines. The next day, Krynak pulled the frog from the cup and set it on a smooth white sheet of plastic for Tim to photograph. It wasn't "punk "--it was smooth-skinned. She assumed that, much to her dismay, she must have picked up the wrong frog. "I then put the frog back in the cup and added some moss," says Krynak. "The spines came back... we simply couldn't believe our eyes, our frog changed skin texture! I put the frog back on the smooth white background. Its skin became smooth."
Krynak didn't find another punk rocker frog until 2009, three years after the first sighting. The second animal was covered in thorny spines, like the first, but they had disappeared when she took a closer look. The team then took photos of the shape-shifting frog every ten seconds for several minutes, watching the spines form and then slowly disappear. It's unclear how the frog forms these spines so quickly, or what they're actually made of. The discovery of a variable species poses challenges to amphibian taxonomists and field biologists, who have traditionally used skin texture and presence/absence of tubercles as important discrete traits in diagnosing and identifying species. The discovery illustrates the importance of describing the behavior of new species, and bolsters the argument for preserving amphibian habitats, says Krynak. "Amphibians are declining so rapidly that scientists are oftentimes describing new species from museum specimens because the animals have already gone extinct in the wild, and very recently."