New Species: Pink-and-Yellow Frog With Spikes

High in the remote mountains of Vietnam, scientists have found a “striking” new species of pink-and-yellow frog covered with sharp spikes.

Jodi Rowley, an expert on Southeast Asian amphibians, had never seen a frog with such spiny skin, and neither had her colleagues.

Only thorny tree frog males sport spikes, as seen above. Photograph by Jodi Rowley

That’s because thorny tree frogs (Gracixalus lumarius), as they’re named in a new study published April 2 in the journal Zootaxa, are found only on Mount Ngoc Linh and surrounding peaks above 5,900 feet (1,800 meters). (Also see “‘Strange’ New Frog Found in Swimming Pool.”)

“Almost every tree hole we looked in had these frogs. They seem to be only from the tops of mountains in this one area in Vietnam, and this region is known to be home to a bunch of species that are found nowhere else,” said Rowley, a biologist at the Australian Museum Research Institute in Sydney. Although her and her colleagues didn’t spot that many tree holes, nearly every one they did find had a frog.

Tough Love

Rowley and colleagues regularly explore Vietnam’s mountains, home to the world’s most diverse group of amphibians. In 2013, the team revealed a new flying frog with flappy forearms, which lives not far from Ho Chi Minh City.

The high peaks of central Vietnam might not seem the most logical place to go hunting for amphibians—the terrain is steep and rocky, and has almost no standing water in which the frogs can live. But Vietnam’s mountain frogs, Rowley and her team found, make do by hanging out in small tree hollows filled with water. (See National Geographic’s Vietnam photos.)

It was on one such tree that Rowley spotted the roughly two-inch-long (five-centimeter-long) thorny tree frog.

The animal’s most distinctive feature is a layer of spikes, which cover the backs and heads of male frogs. “They feel just like sandpaper,” said Rowley, who has received funding from the National Geographic Committee on Research and Exploration. The spikes are made of keratin, the same protein that makes up your fingernails and rhinoceros horns.

Although little is known about the frog’s ecology and natural history, Rowley believes that the spikes—which get bigger during mating season—help females identify males.

Frog’s Uncertain Future

But this impressive armor won’t help the frog endure the many threats to its future.

Southeast Asia has the highest deforestation rate on the planet, and because the frog’s habitat is limited to just a few mountains, it’s particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and climate change, which will likely alter mountaintop climates drastically, Rowley said on her blog. (See “7 Species Hit Hard by Climate Change—Including One That’s Already Extinct.”)

“Now that we know the species exists,” she said, “we hope to ensure its continued survival.”

Follow Carrie Arnold on Twitter and Google+.

Carrie is a freelance science writer living in Virginia. When she's not writing about cool critters, she's spending time outside, drinking coffee, or knitting. You can visit her website at http://www.carriearnold.com
  • ayo gideon

    till the end of time new species will always be discovered. But that is interesting.

  • attempt2


  • bongkosi khuzwayo

    hw interesting to know that i am in the same page as the national geographic community because i just started on the species at school via biological studies

  • sena

    this is a wonderful piece of our planet.

  • Tanti

    What an amazing world we live in …

  • Ana

    Similar frogs are found in Puerto Rico. The scientific name is Eleutheridactylus portorricencis.

  • Daniel Espadafor

    Me encanta, demostrado está que solo conocemos un 10% de las especies de nuestro planeta ( tanto de tierra como de agua ). Quedan muchos animales por descubrir !! -Tanto en el planeta tierra como en otros planetas que seguro hay “bichitos” o…que todavía no se han descubierto.

  • Zahra Saee

    Just WOW…..

  • Joe Ferencak

    Some freshwater male fish species in the minnow family (Cyprinidae) develop these “spikes” called tubercles on the top of the head during the spawning season. So this could possibly be an evolutionary carry over to these amphibians.

  • Daniella

    Is this frog poisonous?

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