Scientists have discovered an otherworldly frog in the forests of Ecuador.
The brown frog’s colors and patterns reminded researchers of fantasy author JRR Tolkien.
A researcher told Insider he could imagine the frog living in Fangorn Forest.
First came Leonardo DiCaprio’s snakes. Now the Tolkien frogs are coming.
A frog fit for a role in one of JRR Tolkien’s fantasy worlds has been discovered in the pristine streams of Río Negro-Sopladora National Park in Ecuador – a country that literally sits on the equator center the earth.
For this reason, researchers Juan C. Sánchez-Nivicela, José M. Falcón-Reibán, and Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia named the mystical frog—a gray-green and yellow amphibian with brown speckles and large, pink eyes— Hyloscirtus tolkieni after the famous author.
“In a stream in the forest lived a Hyloscirtus. Not a disgusting, filthy creek with signs of pollution and a muddy smell, nor a dry, barren, sandy creek with nothing in it to sit or eat: it was a Hyloscirtus-stream, and that means environmental quality,” the study authors write in the first paragraph of their article, published in the journal ZooKeys. (The paragraph is an adaptation of the famous opening lines of The Hobbit.)
The frog, found during surveys in 2020, is 2.6 inches long, lives at 3190 meters and is easily distinguishable from others Hyloscirtus Species – of which there are 39 – because of their coloration.
“Meeting this frog was very surprising,” Sánchez-Nivicela said in an email interview with Insider. “While we were sampling near a ravine and making our way through the vegetation, the only known specimen jumped in our direction. The color patterns were not at all similar to those seen in other frogs of the same genus – we knew it right away.”
Because only one Hyloscirtus tolkieni been discovered so far, there is still much to be learned about how many there are and in which regions they live. The authors noted in their statement that deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices and other environmental threats have harmed species in the mountainous Andean regions. About 57% of the amphibian species in Ecuador are threatened with extinction.
Sánchez-Nivicela told Insider that the montane forest where the common frog lives is full of “amazing landscapes” of moss and lush vegetation. The authors of the study noted in a statement that they have discovered a significant number of species in the sanctuary since 2020.
“I pictured it as the Fangorn Forest south of the Misty Mountains and this frog that lives with the Ents,” said Sánchez-Nivicela.
Sánchez-Nivicela said the reaction to the new frog was well received by fans and personally shared the news to social media sites and blogs dedicated to the late author and his fantasy worlds.
He and his colleagues are fans too. Sánchez-Nivicela described himself and his associates as “dreamers” whose jobs have taken them to places that resemble scenic landscapes depicted in books and art.
“Personally, The Lord of the Rings books came into my life at the right time and have been my companion ever since,” said Sánchez-Nivicela. “To think that you can help solve the great conflicts of the world without being one of the great characters that everyone expects without coming from a kingdom or a castle makes me daydream in this world.”
The brook frog will take its place alongside other amphibians that might exist in Middle-earth – including a stout, wood-loving frog named after Bilbo Baggins that lives across the Atlantic.
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