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Scientists Discover Smallest Frog

December 18, 1996

A new frog discovered in Cuba by scientists funded by the National Science Foundation is the smallest in the Northern Hemisphere, and is tied for the world record with the smallest frog in the Southern Hemisphere, says a biologist from Pennsylvania State University in a paper published in the December issue of the journal Copeia.

The one-centimeter-long frog also is the smallest of the tetrapods, a grouping that includes all animals with backbones except fishes.

Scientists S. Blair Hedges of Penn State and his Cuban colleagues discovered the tiny orange-striped black frog living under leaf litter and among the roots of ferns in a humid rainforest on the western slope of Cuba's Monte Iberia. Hedges and Cuban scientist Alberto Estrada gave the frog the scientific name Eleutherodactylus iberia. Those two words are more than three times longer than the frog itself.

"NSF's biotic surveys and inventories program is unique in that its purpose is funding the discovery of species new to science," says Meredith Lane, director of the program which funded Hedges' work. "Hedges' results are gratifying, because a very high proportion of species in fact remain to be discovered."

Hedges has worked with Cuban scientists to find new species of snakes, lizards, and frogs in Cuba's rainforests over the past several years, including a lizard tied for the world's tiniest. Says Hedges, "You don't often find species that are the smallest, especially in a big group like tetrapods."

Cuban scientists restricted by that country's economic conditions typically have teamed with foreign colleagues to carry on their work. "The tropical forests in Cuba are even more fragile and more threatened than those in the Amazon of South America because they are so small, less than 10 percent of the island's land area," says Hedges. "They are now being cut down at an increasing rate, mainly for subsistence farming and cooking fuel. We still have an incomplete knowledge of the biodiversity on this planet, including areas like Cuba that are very close to the United States."
-end-


National Science Foundation

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