Eric N. Smith, Amphibian And Reptile Diversity Research Center, UTA

Newly discovered toads named after puppets of the dead

Researchers have found a new species of toad (pictured) in a shallow cave more than 1000 meters up the slopes of two of Indonesia’s remote volcanoes, and a close relative in the trees nearby. Brown and lanky with long toes that flare out at the end and an unusual chattering call, the team has christened both “puppet toads.” The amphibians’ true distinctiveness, however, was revealed by genetic tests; their DNA is very different from that of other toads. As a result, the scientists have slotted the two toads into their own grouping, or genus, which they christen Sigalegalephrynus this month in Herpetologica. (Phrynos is Greek for toad, and Sigale Gale is a life-sized puppet used in Sumatran funerals to boost the spirits of the dead who had no surviving children.) The researchers think they have collected three other species of this new genus, but have yet to describe and name them. Coming up with a new genus based on newly discovered individuals has happened only a couple times since the 1800s, the scientists say. Given that forests in this part of the world are disappearing faster even than those in Brazil, the team hopes to get more funding soon to continue to comb those highland forests for more new animals.