Everyone is impressed with a lizard that changes colors … until they see the amphibian that changes shapes. An article in the latest issue of Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society describes the discovery of the world’s first shape-shifting frog by a married research team from Cleveland, Ohio.
Katherine Krynak, a Case Western Reserve University PhD student, and Tim Krynak, a projects manager at Cleveland Metroparks’ Natural Resources Division, found the mutable rainfrog (Pristimantis mutabilis) in the Reserva Las Gralarias in north-central Ecuador. Measuring only 23 millimeters in length, they nicknamed the tiny amphibian the “punk rocker” frog because it was covered with thorny spikes. They had to change the name the next morning when they found a smooth-skinned frog that looked nothing like the punk rocker.
Just to make sure someone wasn’t pulling a prank on them, Katherine Krynak conducted a test.
I then put the frog back in the cup and added some moss. 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 [and] its skin became smooth.
Further tests showed that the mutable rainfrog needs just over 3 minutes to go from pretty to ugly (I wonder if its mom can tell the difference). Not surprisingly, the researchers believe it helps them hide from predators.
Before the Krynaks could get t-shirts made touting “We discovered the world’s only shape-shifting frog,” two other members of the team, Dr. Juan Guayasamin and Dr. Carl Hutter, noticed that Pristimantis sobetes – a larger and previously known Ecuadorian frog – can also make its skin shift from smooth to spiny. With some bosses, that could get you fired.
Fortunately, the Krynaks have other things to do – like figure out how the world’s now two only shape-shifting frogs change shapes and if there’s any more frogs with that ability that may have been misclassified as a result.
Katherine and Tim Krynak are also working for a private, nonprofit foundation to preserve the preserve where the mutable rainfrog was found.
They probably shouldn’t expect donations from jealous chameleons.