Scientists have discovered an otherworldly frog in the forests of Ecuador. The stream frog’s colors and patterns reminded scholars of fantasy author JRR Tolkien. A researcher told Insider he could imagine the frog living in Fangorn Forest. Something is loading.
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First came Leonardo DiCaprio’s Snakes. Now come Tolkien’s frogs.
A frog worthy of 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 literally on the equator – in the middle of the earth.
For this reason, researchers Juan C. Sánchez-Nivicela, José M. Falcón-Reibán and Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia named the mystical frog – a grayish green and yellow amphibian with brown spots and large pink eyes – Hyloscirtus tolkieni after the famous author.
“In a stream in the forest lived a Hyloscirtus. Not a filthy, dirty stream with traces of contamination and the smell of mud, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy stream with nothing to roost on or eat: it was a Hyloscirtus stream, and that means environmental quality,” the study authors wrote in the first paragraph of their paper, published in the journal ZooKeys. (The paragraph is adapted from the famous opening lines of “The Hobbit”.)
The frog, found during surveys in 2020, is 2.6 inches long, lives at 3,190 meters above sea level and is easily distinguished from other Hyloscirtus species – of which there are 39 – due to its coloration.
“The encounter with this frog was very surprising,” Sánchez-Nivicela told Insider in an email interview. “While we were sampling near a ravine and weaving our way through the vegetation, the only specimen known to date jumped in our direction. The coloration patterns were not at all similar to those seen in other frogs of the same genus – we knew immediately.”
Because only one Hyloscirtus tolkieni has been discovered so far, much remains to be learned about their numbers 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 highlands of the Andes. About 57% of amphibian species in Ecuador are threatened with extinction.
Hyloscirtus tolkieni, named after the fantastic author JRR Tolkein Juan Carlos Sánchez-Nivicela / Archive Museo de Zoología, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Sánchez-Nivicela told Insider that the mountainous forest where the stream frog lives is full of “fantastic landscapes” of moss and rich vegetation. The study authors noted in a statement that the protected area is how they have been able to discover a significant number of species since 2020.
“I imagined it as the forest of Fangorn, south of the Misty Mountains and this frog living with the Ents,” Sánchez-Nivicela said.
Habitat of Hyloscirtus tolkieni (red arrow pointing to collection site); and at the collection site inside the forest (below). Juan C. Sanchez-Nivicela
Sánchez-Nivicela said the reaction to the new frog was well received by fans and personally broke the news to social media pages and blogs dedicated to the late author and his fantasy worlds.
He and his colleagues are also fans. Sánchez-Nivicela has described himself and his colleagues as “dreamers” whose work has taken them to places similar to the 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,” Sánchez-Nivicela said. “To think that one can contribute to solving the great conflicts of the world without being one of the great characters that everyone expects, without coming from a kingdom or a castle, allows me to dream in this world.”
The stream frog will take its place among other amphibians that might exist on Middle-earth, including a stocky, wood-loving frog named after Bilbo Baggins that lives on the other side of the Atlantic.