An international team of scientists has described a new species of the rainfrog genus Pristimantis from the cloud forests of Panama and named it after Greta Thunberg, a Swedish student and climate activist.
Rainfrogs of the genus Pristimantis are a major component of amphibian diversity in the Neotropics.
They are primarily distributed in South America with a few species reaching Central America.
Although Pristimantis is one of the most numerous genera of all vertebrates, containing at least 574 species distributed primarily in tropical Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, it remains vastly understudied.
“Pristimantis species are highly variable in coloration and morphology, often rendering it difficult to distinguish between species based on external features alone, while their phylogeny often remains unclear,” said lead author Dr. Konrad Mebert from the Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz and his colleagues.
“Indeed, more than 315 species of Pristimantis are not assigned to any species group, and 124 species were described in the last 10 years with a rate of 11.3 species/year.”
“Currently, there are 13 species of Pristimantis frogs known to occur in Panama, or 14 species if Pristimantis educatoris is viewed as a separate species from Pristimantis caryophyllaceus,” they added.
“Although this species richness is small compared to the richness of Pristimantis across the much larger Choco bioregion of western Colombia and Ecuador, its variation in Panama still poses a major challenge for taxonomic work.”
The newly discovered Pristimantis species is endemic to Panama, but it could occur on near mountains along the border in Colombia.
Named Pristimantis gretathunbergae, or the Greta Thunberg’s rainfrog, it is currently known from the cloud forest of Cerro Chucantí, Maje Mountains, as well as from several other mountain ranges in eastern and central Panama.
“The specific name is a noun in the genitive case and is a patronym in honor for Greta Thunberg, a Swedish student, and her global climate activism,” the researchers explained.
“Greta initiated a ‘School Strike for Climate Action’ outside the Swedish parliament to demand a radical response to the threat by the ongoing climate change.”
“Then sixteen-year-old Thunberg’s example has inspired students worldwide to carry out similar strikes called Fridays For Future that started in August 2018.”
“Pristimantis gretathunbergae has been recorded at altitudes between 718-1,439 m above sea level and occupies most frequently montane forest, a cloud forest consisting predominantly of trees covered with moss and a large variety of understory and midstory bromeliads,” they said.
“At night, this species was observed between 0.5-3 m above the ground on tree bark and in the bromeliad foliage. During daytime, individuals were found hiding between bromeliad leaves.”
“At the top of Cerro Chucantí, males were calling (a sporadic ‘chack’) during the rainy season in December.”
“Reproductive activities beginning with the rain period have also been observed at Altos del Maria, near Gaita Hills.”
According to the team, habitats occupied by Pristimantis gretathunbergae are under latent threat.
“As a flagship species, this new frog can help to preserve the Chucantí cloud forest including several recently described species known only from this isolated area in eastern Panama,” the authors said.
The discovery of Pristimantis gretathunbergae is reported in a paper in the journal ZooKeys.
K. Mebert et al. 2022. A new rainfrog of the genus Pristimantis (Anura, Brachycephaloidea) from central and eastern Panama. ZooKeys 1081: 1-34; doi: 10.3897/zookeys.1081.63009