ORLANDO, Fla. – A student at the University of Central Florida and an international team of researchers leaped into a new discovery in Ecuador.
UCF student Veronica Urgiles helped discover two new frog species and named one of them after her biology professor, Pedro Quintana-Ascencio. She and the team have been studying frogs in Ecuador for the past few years. They found the first new species, named Pristimantis quintanai, in 2017.
Assistant professor Anna Savage, who works with Urgiles, specializes in species diversity based on molecular analyses. They found the second species, dubbed Pristimantis cajanuma, in 2018. Both frogs were discovered in forests of the southern Ecuadorean Andes mountains.
Urgiles said observing the frogs in their habitats, analyzing them, comparing them and naming them is a lengthy but satisfying process.
"Frogs are by far my favorite," she said. "So, getting to describe and name two of them is terrific."
The small frogs measure 0.8 inches long and easily blend into foliage. Pristimantis quintanai females are brown and black, and Primantis cajanuma frogs are green and black. Both species have a distinct call that is sharp and continuous.
"One of the things that I found most interesting about these guys is that they don't have metamorphosis like a regular frog, but instead they develop entirely inside eggs that adult females deposit in the ground," Urgiles said. "They really don't need water bodies for their development."
Urgiles, who is pursing a master's degree in biology, said she chose UCF for its integration of genetics and genomics in biodiversity research.
Another UCF student, Nicholas Christodoulides, was also a member of the team with other students who attend college in Ecuador, Romania and Colombia. The team published their findings in the journal ZooKeys.
The work is critical because of the vast diversity that remains undiscovered in the tropical Andes of South America, Urgiles said. In 2018, 13 new species of frogs were documented there, and five new frog speicies have been discovered so far in 2019.