Brand New “Pinocchio” Tree Frog Discovered In New Guinea

An expedition to the island of New Guinea in the Pacific has rewarded intrepid researchers with three brand new species of tree frogs.

The new species, all members of the Litoria tree frog family, are incredibly rare, as scientists have only seen each of the species just once. They have been described for the first time in Zootaxa.

First up is Litoria pinocchio, which on first impression looks like a typical tree frog. On closer inspection, however, it has a small fleshy “rostral” spike, around 2.5 millimeters, protruding from its nose. Litoria vivissimia, which translates as “cheeky monkey”, has a similar protuberance on its snout.

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“It’s pretty obvious how we came up with the name Litoria pinocchio – it refers to the distinctive spike between the frog’s nostrils,” said Dr Paul Oliver of Griffiths University, senior curator of Queensland Museum and lead author of the study.

“And Litoria vivissimia translates to ‘cheeky monkey’ – we have probably walked past dozens of them but have only ever seen one. We think they are probably up there in treetops laughing at us.”

Litoria pinocchio. Tim Laman, National Geographic

They are not the first tree frogs found with these rostral spikes, but the size, structure, and degree of sexual dimorphism – the difference in appearance between males and females of the same species – varies so much across the Litoria family, researchers suspect it is used for mating selection and possibly camouflage, but don’t really know for sure. 

Meet Litoria vivissimia, or “cheeky monkey”. Stephen Richards

The third frog is a parachuting frog, a type of frog that lives high in the treetops and leaps into the air, splaying its webbed feet to control its glide to neighboring tree branches, or occasionally, the ground.

The researchers described it as a large green frog with violet thighs, and named it Litoria pterodactyla. Pterodactyl was the name given to the first flying reptile species of pterosaur identified. It lived 150.8-148.5 million years ago, and the first fossil mystified scientists about what it was until, in 1800, scientist Johann Hermann suggested Pterodactylus used its long fourth finger to support a wing membrane. Pterodactylus comes from the Greek for “winged finger”.

“Its name translates to ‘winged fingers’, referring to its extensive violet finger webbing that it uses to parachute out of trees,” Dr Oliver said. 

Meet Litoria pterodactyla, a parachuting frog. Stephen Richards

Indonesia, and New Guinea, in particular, is a biodiversity hotspot for frogs, with numerous new species described in the last 10-20 years. L. pinocchio was discovered in the Foja Mountains in northern Papua Province, the western side of New Guinea island that is administered by Indonesia. L. vivissimia was found in the mid-montane mountains of the Central Cordiller, the New Guinea Highlands also in Papua. It is morphologically similar to another known species of Litoria, L. pronimia, but was found 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) higher than any known locale for that species. L. pterodactyla was found in the hill forests in Western Province, Papua New Guinea, the independent country on the eastern side of the island.

L. pterodactyla hanging out in its forest home, looking like the poster frog for tree frogs. Stephen Richards



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