The Tadpoles Of These Newly-Discovered Frogs Have Suction-Cup Bellies

Tadpoles of two species of frogs newly discovered in the rainforests of Sumatra have the unusual ability to adhere to rocks in fast-flowing rivers using suction cups in their bellies

Recently, two species of frogs were discovered on the Indonesian island of Sumatra whose tadpoles have a special feature: their bellies are bleeding to form suckers. Tadpoles are amphibian larvae, especially frogs and toads, and are typically aquatic.

“This phenomenon where tadpoles exhibit ‘belly suckers’ is known as gastromizoforia and, while not unheard of, is a rare adaptation found only in certain toads in the Americas and frogs in Asia,” said lead author, herpetologist Umilaela Arifin, a PhD student at the University of Hamburg, in a statement. The discovery was made by Ms. Arifin and an international team of scientists who were collecting amphibians in a remote region of Sumatra.

Most tadpoles have a small fleshy mouth, known as an oral disc, which they use to suck algae and other organic matter from the surfaces of submerged rocks, and the cup-shaped belly wind is only present in tadpoles. Like belly suckers in some Asian frog species, newly discovered Indonesian frog suckers probably allow their tadpoles to exploit a specialized niche: rocky surfaces in fast-flowing rivers. Basically, tadpoles that lack these suction cups are washed downstream by powerful currents.

These two species of frogs are so unusual that they did not fit into any previously existing genus, so researchers classified them into a new genus.

“We decided to call the new genus Sumaterana after Sumatra, to reflect the fact that these new species, with their rare evolutionary adaptation, are endemic to the rainforests of Sumatra and, in a sense, are emblematic of the exceptional diversity of animals and plants on the island,” said the co-author of the Utpal Smart study.

A third species of Sumatran frog, Chalcorana crassiovis, was reclassified by researchers in this new genus after DNA analyses and morphological measurements of tadpoles and adults showed that it is also a close relative (Figure 1a).

Studying frogs is essential because they are important indicator species.

“We can use frogs to assess environmental health because frogs are very sensitive,” Ms. Arifin said in a video statement (link). “The slightest change in the environment can affect frogs.”

Indonesia comprises more than 17,000 islands scattered throughout much of the South Pacific Ocean. It is home to more than 16% of the world’s known amphibian and reptile species, and more are discovered every year.

“Indonesia is a biodiversity hotspot and has one of the greatest frog diversities in the world,” Arifin said. However, very little is known about most of these frogs. In addition, Indonesia is in a race against time: logging and agriculture are rapidly changing this island nation, which loses more than a million hectares of pristine forests each year. As is true for almost all living things these days, Indonesia’s unusual Frogs could easily be eliminated by the rampant destruction of their habitat before scientists have a chance to study their taxonomy, to learn much about their lives in nature, or even before we know they are there.

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