UR biology professor discovers three new frog species

May 22, 2017

Spider Pride

We’ve always known our faculty are outstanding in their fields, but it never hurts when their research generates headlines about new discoveries.

Take longtime biology professor Rafael de Sá, for example. When you enter his lab in the Gottwald Center, two of the first things you’ll see are the massive skeletal head of an elephant and giant bones from the jaws of a whale hanging from the ceiling. It might then surprise you to learn that one of his main passions and the focus of much of his research is on something much, much smaller — frogs. He’s been a pioneer in studying them for a long time, and his latest discoveries are slated to be featured in an upcoming issue of Reptiles magazine. 

De Sá recently led a National Science Foundation-funded project that resulted in the discovery of three new frog species in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. The frogs look similar to species already known to science, but have distinct genes and minute physical differences that set them apart. 

“My colleagues and I found three new species of what are commonly known as humming frogs,” he explained. “These small, brown frogs spend most of their life underground, coming out only a few weeks a year during the early heavy rains to breed."

And that’s the best time to find them because they are calling for a mate! 

“We recognized the call, and then we walked, and walked, and walked until we found them. On a good night, we were out and about until three or four in the morning,” he said. “It is quite remarkable that we found these new species in the Atlantic Forest, which has been heavily degraded by agriculture.”

De Sá has dedicated much of his life to research on diversity of frogs. With help from fellow researchers, both in the U.S. and abroad, he has assisted in mapping out this entire family of humming frogs, and says it’s nice to keep expanding the knowledge of the family tree.

“With about one-third of frogs listed as endangered, anything we can do to continue to study frogs, especially identifying new species, is paramount in influencing bio-conservation efforts and policies,” de Sá said.

Until the article in Reptiles comes out, you can read more about this research on Mongabay, an environmental science and conservation news and information site.