Plants and Animals

Newly Discovered Glass Frog Shows Off Its Beating Heart

Researchers have discovered an arresting new species of glass frog in the rainforests of Ecuador, whose bones and beating heart can be seen through its skin. Unfortunately, however, it seems likely that the stunning amphibian may not be much longer for this world, as oil exploitation is already wreaking havoc in the only forest it is known to live.

While glass frogs are typically bright green on top, the delicate little amphibians have a transparent belly that reveals an intimate glimpse of their insides. And Hyalinobatrachium yaku is no different, with its clear underside showing its organs in exquisite detail. In some species of glass frog, the heart and organs are coated in a white peritonea, but this latest discovery lacks this coloration, allowing the researchers to see the red blood pumping through the tiny animal’s heart.

The green backs of the amphibians clearly help the little critters blend in with their surroundings as they hop around the streams or clamber through the canopy. But it is still uncertain why they have see-through undersides. Either way, the group of amphibians is clearly quite successful, with around 150 different species doing their thing across much of South and Central America.

This latest species, described in Zookeys, stands out among its contemporaries for a number of reasons. Sporting the typical lime green paint job, this new species adds a smattering of dark green spots. Not only that, but its behavior has also marked it out as different from most of the rest. While the females lay their eggs on the underside of leaves hanging over streams, the males will then guard them against any unscrupulous critters that might fancy the eggs as a light snack.

But as if so often the case, the joy of the discovery of such a beautiful creature is tainted by reality. The frog lives in Ecuadorian rainforest that is currently being threatened by oil exploration, and the researchers are concerned that this newly described amphibian may already be looking down the barrel of a gun.

Unfortunately, this is not unusual for amphibians, a third of which are thought to be facing extinction. The main threats are deforestation and disease, with the cytrid fungus sweeping across the world, decimating populations of amphibians wherever it touches. Yet despite this grave existential threat, scientists are still finding up to 200 new species a year, though the bitter truth is this probably means that some frogs have disappeared before we even knew they were there.

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