Weird & Wild: Well-Endowed Frog Found

By Christine Dell’Amore

In case you haven’t had your fill of genitalia news for the week, the Nature Conservancy is reporting the discovery of a new population of well-endowed frogs in California.

The conservation nonprofit’s Larry Serpa, an aquatic ecologist, found the coastal tailed frog living in the Garcia River Forest (see map)–21 miles (34 kilometers) south of its known range of California’s Pacific coast, according to the Cool Green Science blog.

Of the 5,000 or so known frog and toad species, the coastal tailed frog is one of only two found so far that have a copulatory organ, which is
“essentially a penis,” Serpa said in the blog.


The frog’s copulatory organ (bottom left) measures a quarter of its body length
Credit: Larry Serpa/The Nature Conservancy

Why? Cool Green Science’s Julia Kumari Drapkin explains:

“Most frogs release their eggs and sperm into the water, like fish. But that reproductive method won’t work in the cold, clear, fast moving streams like those found in the Garcia River, which would wash the eggs and sperm away. So the coastal tailed frog instead wields its extended
cloaca (that’s what scientists like to call it) to fertilize females internally.”

Finding the frog is a sign that the environment is getting healthier in the Garcia River region, Drapkin noted. Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the frog as a species of least concern, damage to the watershed had limited its population in the area.

In looking for Weird & Wild fodder, I never seem to come up short (har) in genitalia content. Last week, for instance, I wrote about an “exceptionally well-preserved copulating pair” of mites that had been found trapped in amber.

Salaciousness aside, the frog discovery reminded me of the 2010 search for the world’s “lost” amphibians co-led by Conservation International and the IUCN’s Amphibian Specialist Group. The unprecedented effort was most focused on finding ten species of high scientific and aesthetic value. (See photos: “Ten Most Wanted ‘Extinct’ Amphibians.”)

Only four of the hundred possibly extinct amphibians specifically sought during the August-through-December search were found–a bittersweet result for the conservationists.

Yet 11 more rediscoveries were “unexpected surprises,” Conservation International said in a February statement. (See pictures of some of the surprise amphibians.)

Indeed, scientists I interview about finding new species or new populations will often emphasize there are unexpected discoveries to be had–even today.

As Douglas Long, discoverer of a species of ghostshark with a sex organ on its head (sorry, couldn’t resist) told me in 2009:

“It’s like Christmas. You don’t what you’re going to get–but you know it’s going to be great.”


Check out more weird coverage on National Geographic News.


Meet the Author
Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.