Marble-sized 'Mutable Rainfrog' found in Ecuadorian cloud forest can change skin texture to ward off predators. Roselle Chen reports.
This marble-sized frog, capable of changing its skin texture to mimic its surroundings, has been officially named the "Pristimantis Mutabilis" or "Mutable Rainfrog." First discovered in 2009 by American researchers Katherine and Tim Krynak in Ecuador, it's the first amphibian known to have this unique shape-shifting quality. Upon finding the creature, the pair dubbed it 'punk rocker' due to its spiky texture. But after placing it on a smooth surface they were surprised to notice that the spikes soon disappeared completely, to imitate its flat surroundings. Evolutionary biologist Juan Manuel Guayasamin: SOUNDBITE (Spanish) EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST AT THE UNIVERSIDAD TECNOLOGICA INDOAMERICA, JUAN MANUEL GUAYASAMIN, SAYING: "While the study of amphibians is hundreds of years old, it's the first time that an amphibian, of which there are 7000 species, can change its texture in so little time. It has a lot of implications; first of all it's surprising, the short time one is watching the animal you can't believe it. When you work to describe a species what you do is use a series of characteristics that we assume are stable: we guess this frog always has tubers [anatomical prominences] and assume that this other frog doesn't ever have tubers and that's how we differentiate them. To find one [frog] where there are such drastic variations in so little time it makes you think a bit about whether the taxonomy work we are doing is adequate or not." Scientists believe Pristimantis's ability to so dramatically transform its skin within minutes helps it camouflage itself to ward off predators. Due to its minuscule size and ability to camouflage, the mutable rainfrog - or 'transformer frog', as it's been dubbed - has proven difficult to locate, making it hard for scientists to determine the scope of its population. A wide variety of frog species can be found in Ecuador, such as those known as 'glass frogs' because of their transparent skin. The South American country has the third-greatest diversity of amphibians globally, following Brazil and Colombia.