A recent study highlights the discovery of a new species of frog in Ecuador’s Andean cloud forest that can change its skin to mimic the texture it is sitting on.

First found back in 2009 by a Case Western Reserve University grad student and her husband, a projects manager at Cleveland Metroparks’ Natural Resources Division, the tiny Andean frog is the first known amphibian to have this shape-shifting capability.

Newly Found Andean Frog Can Grow Spines To Mimic Its Environment

Details on the new shape-shifting Andean frogs

The new species is formally named Pristimantis mutabilis (mutable rainfrog). Moreover, it looks like the mutable rainfrog is not the only species that can change its skin texture. Other researchers recently discovered an already known relative of the mutable rainfrog shares the same texture-changing ability, .but no one had noticed it.

The amphibians were discovered at Reserva Las Gralarias, a nature reserve protect endangered birds in the Parish of Mindo, in northern Ecuador.

Katherine and Tim Krynak, together with colleagues from Universidad Indoamérica and Tropical Herping (Ecuador) co-authored a study about the new frog in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society that was published his week.

Juan M. Guayasamin, from Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, the manuscript’s first author, undertook morphological and genetic studies proving that P. mutabilis was a unique and unknown species. Carl R. Hutter, from the University of Kansas, analyzed the calls of the new Andean frog, identifying three songs that differentiate them from similar species. Jamie Culebras of Tropical Herping also assisted with fieldwork and found a second population of the new frog.

Disappointment turns to joyful surprise

The Krynaks searched for a new frog they had spotted back in 2006, finally captured one in 2009  and tucked it into a cup with a lid before resuming their nightly search for wildlife. The two decided to call it “punk rocker” because of the bumpy spines all over its head and back..

Katherine Krynak pulled the frog from the cup the next morning, and set it on a smooth white sheet of plastic for Tim to photograph. But it wasn’t “punk” anymnore, it was smooth-skinned. They assumed that she must have accidentally grabbed the wrong frog.

“I then put the frog back in the cup and added some moss,” Krynak said. “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.”

“The spines and coloration help them blend into mossy habitats, making it hard for us to see them,” she continued. “But whether the texture really helps them elude predators still needs to be tested.”