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Scientists Discover Smallest Frog

21 November 1996

Credit: M. Lammertink

Credit: M. Lammertink


A new frog discovered in Cuba is the smallest in the Northern Hemisphere and is tied for the world record with the smallest frog in the Southern Hemisphere, say a team of biologists from Cuba and Penn State.

The one-centimeter-long frog also is the smallest of the tetrapods, a grouping that includes all animals with backbones except fishes, according to a paper to be published in the December 1996 issue of the journal Copeia by Cuban scientist Alberto R. Estrada and Penn State Assistant Professor of Biology S. Blair Hedges.

Estrada discovered the tiny orange-striped black frog living under leaf litter and among the roots of ferns in a humid rainforest on the western slope of Cuba's Monte Iberia. Hedges and Estrada say it is in the genus Eleutherodactylus, which in print is more than three times as long as the frog itself.

Hedges has teamed with Estrada and other Cuban scientists to find many new species of snakes, lizards, and frogs in Cuba's rainforests during the past several years, including a lizard tied for the record of world's tiniest. "You don't often find species that are the smallest, especially in a big group like tetrapods," he adds.

Cuban scientists restricted by that country's economic conditions typically have teamed with foreign colleagues in order to carry on their work since the onset of severe economic hardships triggered by the fall of the Soviet Union. "The tropical forests in Cuba are even more fragile and more threatened than those in the Amazon of South America because they are so small — less than 10 percent of the island's land area — and they are now being cut down at an increasing rate, mainly for subsistence farming and cooking fuel," Hedges adds. "We still have an incomplete knowledge of the biodiversity on this planet, including areas like Cuba that are very close to the United States."

This research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.


S. Blair Hedges, 814-865-9991,
Barbara K. Kennedy, 814-863-4682,