Scientists studying an endangered frog got a pleasant surprise when they discovered a new species entirely.

A study in PLOS One describes the new kid on the block, a rainfrog from northwestern Ecuador, as a greenish-yellow creature with horizontal black stripes and eyes that range from light blue to grayish-green or grayish-yellow. The researchers say it is “one of the most colorful species” within its genus and it has since been named for its native country: Pristimantis ecuadorensis.

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The team was looking at what they are calling its “sister,” P. ornatissimus, which has stripes going longways down the frog instead of side to side and yellow eyes. They used DNA to confirm that the two are distinct from one another.

frog-ornatissimus Scientists were studying this frog, Pristimantis ornatissimus, when they discovered an entirely new species with stripes going in the other direction. Photo: PLOS One

Both the new species of frog and its relative come from the same area of the country, but they inhabit different elevations. While the former lives in elevations between 1,467 and 1,480 meters in the Andes Mountains, the latter can be found below 1,100 meters in what is called the Chocó ecoregion. The difference in elevation may have been what made the species branch off — “one traditional theory is that a population experiences a geographic split, such as a river or a mountain range, which limits gene flow, and allows species to evolve new traits over millions of years, like size, shape and mating calls,” Colorado State University, who had a biologist on the research team, said in a statement.

frog1_full A new species of frog, which scientists have named the Ecuadorian rainfrog, is native to the Andes in Ecuador. Photo: Centro Jambatu

And in Ecuador, there is a lot of that speciation. The university compares the number of frog species in the United States and Canada — 110 that have been discovered — to the number in Ecuador, which is a much smaller area: 570 frogs found so far.

The newcomer doesn’t have any easy road ahead of it. “The new species is considered endangered,” CSU said, “primarily due to its extremely small range, rarity, and habitat loss from agriculture and logging.”

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