Eight new frog species discovered in Laos

In this undated photo released by the World Conservation Society, a new species of frog named Rana Compotrix B is seen in the jungles of Laos. Bryan Stuart / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

You want to find a new frog species?  Head to the Southeast Asian nation of Laos.

Scientists working in conjunction with the New York-based World Conservation Society, or WCS, say they have discovered eight new species of frogs in the past two years.  Among them is one where the male is half the size of the female and another which has a row of spines running down its belly.

Their findings were reported earlier this year in Copeia, the journal of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and in other peer-reviewed scientific journals since 2004.

"Nobody has really paid much attention to Laos in terms of amphibian and reptile research," Bryan Stuart, whose team made the discoveries, told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

"So the amphibian fauna of Laos is much more poorly understood compared with neighboring countries. Almost every one of my field trips has yielded species unknown to science," he said.

The frogs are the latest new species to come out of the tiny, landlocked Asian country.  Many are found in Laotian forests, largely unexplored by outsiders because of the geographic remoteness and the country's history of political turmoil.

Last year, scientists reported discovering a rat-like rodent known locally as kha-nyou.  The mammal, with the face of a rat and the body of a skinny squirrel, previously was thought to have died out 11 million years ago, researchers writing in Science said in March.

Stuart, whose team also discovered a new species of salamander in Laos in 2004, said he is captivated by the new finds but also concerned since many of the frogs depend on forests which are constantly under threat across the region.

"These frogs are not living in rice paddies or near villages.  They are living in intact forests," he said.

"When forests are cleared, we're losing this piece of biodiversity that we may never have known existed," he said.  "I can't think of any tropical region where there isn't a threat to intact forest. Certainly, there is forest destruction in Laos."

Another threat — at least to the black and gold salamander Stuart's team discovered — is collectors.  Earlier this year, the salamander turned up in the pet trade in Japan, where it is commanding a high commercial price.  There also have been reports of it being sold in Germany and Britain, the WCS said.

"The collectors are getting in before we understand the ecology of the salamander," said Michael Hedemark, co-director of the WCS Lao Program.  "Our concern is that the population will be driven to extinction before we understand it better."

Stuart, a research assistant at the Field Museum in Chicago, plans to return to Laos later this year for additional research.  He said he believes the conservation benefits of reporting a new discovery outweigh the threat of collectors.

Referring to the frogs, he says none of their characteristics — such as size or color — are likely to interest collectors.  But reporting their discovery, he said, may spur the government to protect its forests better.

"The process of discovering and describing biodiversity must go on," he said.