Discovering New Frog Species

by AMNH on

Research posts

As a young boy in Brasilia, Brazil, herpetologist and fourth-year graduate student Pedro Peloso often ranged outside that modernist city to explore the outdoors beyond its borders. “I was passionate about lizards,” he remembered. “I would try to catch them as much as I could.”

This early interest eventually led him to college to study reptiles including snakes and lizards, as well as amphibians including frogs—the animal groups often included under the umbrella term herpetology. Today, he continues this work as a Ph.D. candidate at the Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History, where Peloso has described one new genus of lizard and eight previously unknown species of frogs.

Amazon Tree Frog - Not Yet Named
This small bright-orange tree frog discovered by Peloso and colleagues in the Amazon is still not named. 
Photo: Pedro Peloso

He’s not unusual among his peers at the Museum. Since it was founded in 2008, students at the Richard Gilder Graduate School have described more than 30 new species, some from the Museum’s extensive collections, others from field expeditions that are an integral part of their graduate school experience.

Pedro Peloso in Collections
The collections at the AMNH provide a great resource for biodiversity studies by RGGS students. In addition to those discovered in the field, Peloso had discovered a few new species just by examining historical specimens in scientific collections. 
Photo: Adriano Gambarini

Peloso has conducted several field expeditions in the Brazilian Amazon and in Vietnam, discovering new species during both of those trips. “Finding new species of large mammals isn’t that common these days,” notes Peloso, “but for frogs, it is a little more so—and that’s our job.”

Pedro Plane
Small airplane used to get to a remote site in the Amazon. 
Photo: Personal archive, Pedro Peloso

In 2013 Peloso flew from New York to São Paulo and then to Rio Branco, in Acre; joining colleagues, he drove for a day in a car to the town of Cruzeiro do Sul; and then travelled in a small wooden canoe upriver for another 15 hours on a tributary to the Juruá River, finally setting their camp for the next four weeks. There, Peloso and other colleagues discovered material that would prove integral to Peloso’s PhD thesis.

Pedro Boat
In a boat heading out to the Amazonian forest at dusk. 
Photo: Marcelo Sturaro

Waiting until dusk, when most frogs emerge to feed or to mate, the researchers would head out into the dark forest wearing headlamps to gather information about the frogs: their differing calls, their colors in life, and more. Collecting specimens allows scientists to bring back samples from which to sequence the animals’ DNA, which, along with morphological and behavioral data, helps determine whether they’ve found a new species. 

Chiasmocleis papachibe
This fossorial Amazonian frog was just recently described and named by Peloso and colleagues. The publication was featured in the Bulletin of the AMNH. The species was named Chiasmocleis papachibe. 
Photo: Marcelo Sturaro

“Discovering a new species, living or fossil, is fascinating and important in its own right,” notes John Flynn, dean of the Richard Gilder Graduate School. “But the greatest significance lies in the unique information that each new species provides about another branch of the tree of life, the distribution of life across time and geography, relationships between biological diversification and earth history, and ultimately the causes and consequences of species origins and extinctions.”