Pea frog of Borneo – Microhyla nepenthicola

© Prof. Indraneil Das/ Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation

The miniscule  Microhyla nepenthicola – also known as the mini or pea-frog – inhabits the heath forests of Borneo in SE Asia (see map below).  It was only formally described and named by Conservation International scientists in autumn 2010 (more information here), although it had been well documented for over 100 years.

Incredibly, whilst well-known to scientists, it had previously been thought that this tiny amphibian was a juvenile of other frog species in the genus Microhyla (which itself is populated only by tiny frogs!).  However, after tracking the diminutive frog’s unfamiliar, rasping call (only adult frogs emit calls) as it rippled through the rainforest in Kubah National Park around sunset, researchers found healthy populations living in and around the pitcher plants which thrive in the humid, shady conditions.

Listen to the pea-frog’s call

Pitcher plants: © Prof. Indraneil Das/ Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation

Many species of pitcher plants that grow in this habitat are carnivorous, trapping and digesting unwitting small insects lured in by bribes of nectar or visual lures (for more on carnivorous plants, see the intriguing bladderwort in the Cabinet).  Insects become trapped in liquid at the base of the pitcher, where they drown and dissolve.  However, improbably, this same liquid is where the pea-frog lays its spawn, and where its tadpoles develop until they emerge as adults.

© Prof. Indraneil Das/ Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation

The adult frog measures between 10.6 and 12.8mm (just look at how that compares to a coin in the picture, left!), and is the smallest known frog in the so-called “Old World” (which includes Asia, Africa and Europe).  Its “discovery” emerged from expeditions by Conservation International and IUCN’s Amphibian Specialist Group around the world in the hope of rediscovering 100 species of “lost” amphibians – animals considered potentially extinct but that may be holding on in a few remote places. You can find out more about this initiative here.

The Cabinet of Freshwater Curiosities is a place to collect and celebrate curious freshwater species, and the idea that there may be more, similar “curiosities” like the pea-frog awaiting discovery is extremely exciting.  If you have any curiosities of your own to contribute, we’d love to hear from you as we’re keen to feature more “guest curators”!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Pea Frog | Caroline Palmer
  2. Dirk Verschuren
    May 22, 2013 @ 08:01:09

    If you want to convey to readers the scale of things by comparing them to the size of a U.S. one cent coin, please do get it right. If the pictured frog is 11-12 mm, as the text beside it suggests, the coin must be about 10 cm (4 inches) across; you had this coin in your purse? More likely a juvenile frog is pictured, measuring just a few mm.


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