Worlds’ Smallest Frog Crawls out of Pitcher Plant

Below Article appeared in the Malaysian Naturalist Volume 64-3 March 2011.

Worlds’ Smallest Frog Crawls out of Pitcher Plant

A newly discovered species is revealed in Sarawak!

 TEXT & IMAGES BY: BJORN OLESEN

Having visited Sabah in the Northern part of Borneo at least twice annually for the past 10 years, I thought it was about time to try something new.   I was recommended to contact Ch’ien Lee a fellow wildlife photographer and professional guide, who is a pitcher plant expert, and who ‘guaranteed’ me the chance to photograph a completely new species of frog, only photographed on a couple of occasions in Sarawak.

This was simply too much to resist.

The newly discovered Microhylid frog in question literally crawled out of a miniature pitcher plant, and was only described in ZooTaxa on 19th August, 2010 by Dr. Indraneil Das, Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation Universiti Malaysia, Sarawak, and Alexander Haas, Biozentrum Grindel und Zoologisches Museum, Hamburg.

The new species belongs to the Microhylidae family of frogs of under 15mm in length.  It was named after Nepenthes ampullaria a species of pitcher plant from Malaysia’s Borneo.

The Nepenthes ampullaria pitcher plants with the minute tadpoles inside

Many species of pitcher are carnivorous and reply on trapping insects to supply nutrients otherwise not available in the poor quality soil on which they normally grow.  The N. ampullaria pitcher plant, however, subsists off decomposing organic matters that collects in its pitcher.

The Microhyla nepenthicola frog lives in and around the host pitcher plant, and deposits its eggs on the sides of the pitcher.  When these hatch, the tadpoles grow in the liquid accumulated in the pitcher’s cavity.

The minute tadpoles are growing inside the liquid of the pitcher plant

When I was planning my trip from Singapore we decided that two days or rather two nights in the Kubah National Park should be enough to locate and photograph this new diminutive species measuring only around 11mm.

Optimistically we started the first evening just after dark, having located some the miniature host pitcher plants earlier in the day.  Unfortunately, we reluctantly had to give up that first night around 1 am, having heard none of the elusive frog’s harsh rasping calls.  The best way to locate this species is by tracking the calls done by males within and around the pitcher plants normally in the early parts of the evening.

The only excitement that that evening though was hearing a poacher firing a number of gunshots close by.  When getting back to the main road we saw the poacher’s motorbike, which was duly photographed.  As the Kubah Nature Park is a restricted area, we went down to report our findings at the guardhouse near the main gate, which to our surprise was wide open – without a guard!  The incident was however reported with the motorbike’s registration number to the Forestry Department the next day.

The following day to our delight, we found a new patch of the Nampullaria pitcher plants with the minute tadpoles inside, and as luck would have it, that same evening we located two specimens of the minute frog!  We managed to photograph them a couple of times before they jumped into the darkness of the Borneo Jungle.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Ch’ien Lee in Kuching for showing me these wonderful creatures.

Reference: Zootaxa: 2571: 37-52 (2010).http://frogsofborneo.org/Families/microhylidae/nepenthicola/nephnthicola.html

At a size of 10.9 – 12.0 mm it is the smallest frog species in Asia, Africa, & Europe

Bjorn Olesen is a full-time wildlife photographer and a passionate conservationist; he is a long-term resident of South-east Asia, and life-member of the Malaysian Nature Society.  His images have appeared in local and many overseas publications and web-sites.  All his 40,000+ images are available free-of-charge to non-profit conservation NGO’s on his website www.bjornolesen. com 

 

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