Image: The new species of a mini frog
Indraneil Das / IBEC via Reuters
A specimen from a miniature frog species named Microhyla nepenthicola sits on a tip of a pencil. The frog was found on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo.
OurAmazingPlanet
updated 8/25/2010 1:08:02 PM ET 2010-08-25T17:08:02

One of the tiniest frogs in the world, and the smallest ever seen outside of North and South America, has been discovered in the forests of the Southeast Asian island of Borneo.

The pea-sized amphibians (Microhyla nepenthicola) were found near a mountain in Kubah National Park.

"I saw some specimens in museum collections that are over 100 years old. Scientists presumably thought they were juveniles of other species, but it turns out they are adults of this newly discovered micro species," said Indraneil Das of the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak. Das and Alexander Haas of Germany's Biozentrum Grindel und Zoologisches Museum are the discoverers of the tiny creatures.

The mini frog was named after the plant on which it depends for survival, the Nepenthes ampullaria, one of many species of pitcher plants in Borneo. These plants have a pitcher-shaped, open cavity and grow in damp, shady forests. The frogs deposit their eggs on the sides of the pitcher, and tadpoles grow in the liquid that accumulates inside the plant.

Adult males of the newly discovered frog species are just shy of a half inch (10.6 to 12.8 millimeters) long — about the size of a pea. Because they are so tiny, finding them proved to be a challenge.

Image: Tiny frog
Indraneil Das / Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation
A freshly metamorphosed Microhyla nepenthicola frog sits on a penny.

The frogs were tracked by their call, and then made to jump onto a piece of white cloth to be examined more closely. Their singing normally starts at dusk, with males gathering within and around the pitcher plants. They call in a series of harsh rasping notes that last for a few minutes with brief intervals of silence. This "amphibian symphony" goes on from sundown until peaking in the early hours of the evening.

Amphibians are the most threatened group of animals in the world, with a third of them in danger of extinction. They provide important services to humans, such as controlling the populations of insects that spread disease and damage crops, and helping to maintain healthy freshwater systems.

"Amphibians are quite sensitive to changes in their surroundings, so we hope the discovery of these miniature frogs will help us understand what changes in the global environment are having an impact on these fascinating animals," said Conservation International's Robin Moore.

Conservation International has launched a worldwide search for so-called "lost amphibians," species that have not been seen in several years that could possibly be extinct.

The discovery of the frog is detailed in the journal Zootaxa.

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Photos: Top 10 ‘lost’ amphibians

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  1. Gold prize in the toad hunt

    Conservation International and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group are putting out an all points bulletin for the world's "lost" amphibians - including this golden toad, last seen in Costa Rica in 1989. The golden toad (Incilius periglenes), which is No. 1 on the amphibian-hunters' "Ten Most Wanted List," is arguably the most famous of the lost species. It went from abundant to seemingly extinct in a little over a year in the late 1980s. (Enrique La Marca) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Tiny target

    No. 2 on the top-ten list of lost amphibians is actually a double entry, featuring the only two members of the genus Rheobatrachus. This is R. vitellinus, which was discovered in 1984 in Australia's Clarke Range. It has not been seen since 1985 and is considered extinct. (Mike Tyler) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Bizarre births

    The other frog at the No. 2 spot on the lost-amphibian list is Rheobatrachus silus. Rheobatrachus frogs, also known as gastric brooding frogs, had an unusual mode of reproduction: The female would swallow her eggs and raise tadpoles in her stomach. Then she would give birth to the froglets through her mouth. Unfortunately, these frogs - like their cousins, R. vitellinus - have not been seen since 1985 and are thought to be extinct. (John Wombey) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Long-gone toad?

    The Mesopotamia beaked toad (Rhinella rostrata) is No. 3 on the top-ten list of lost amphibians. It was discovered near the Colombian village of Mesopotamia, but has not been seen since 1914. The toad was noted for its distinctive pyramid-shaped head. (Paula Andrea Romero Ardila) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Desperately seeking salamander

    Jackson's climbing salamander (Bolitoglossa jacksoni), which is No. 4 on the lost-amphibian list, was last seen in 1975. This stunning black-and-yellow creature was one of only two known specimens, and is believed to have been stolen from a California laboratory in the mid-1970s. (Dave Wake) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'Painted' but never photographed

    The African painted frog (Callixalus pictus), No. 5 on the top-ten list of lost amphibians, was last seen in 1950 in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Very little is known about this species, which has apparently never been photographed. (Reproduced in Evolution Vol 18) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Doomed by disease?

    The Rio Pescado stubfoot toad (Atelopus balios), No. 6 on the top-ten list, was last seen in Ecuador in 1995. The species may have been wiped out by chytridiomycosis, a devastating disease caused by a fungus. Some experts say chytridiomycosis may rank among the worst diseases in recorded history in terms of its effect on biodiversity. (Luis Coloma) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Exotic ... and extinct?

    The Turkestanian salamander (Hynobius turkestanicus), No. 7 on the top-ten list, was last seen in 1909. Only two specimens were ever collected, somewhere "between Pamir and Samarkand" in present-day Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. (Amphibians of the Former Soviet Union) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Vanished in Venezuela

    No. 8 on the top-ten list is the scarlet harlequin toad (Atelopus sorianoi), which was spotted in a single stream in an isolated cloud forest in Venezuela. The species, also known as the cloud forest stubfoot toad, has not been seen since 1990. (Enrique La Marca) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Species drained dry?

    The Hula painted frog (Discoglossus nigriventer), No. 9 on the top-ten list, is known only from a single adult specimen that was collected in Israel in 1955. Efforts to drain marshlands in Syria to eradicate malaria may have been responsible for the species' disappearance. (Heinrich Mendelssohn) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Lost due to logging?

    The Sambas stream toad (Ansonia latidisca), the final entry on the top-ten list of lost amphibians, was last seen on the island of Borneo in the 1950s. Increased sedimentation in streams after logging may have contributed to the species' decline. (Reproduced in Inger) Back to slideshow navigation
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