Huge New Species of Flying Frog Discovered in Vietnam

An international team of amphibian biologists led by Dr Jodi Rowley of the Australian Museum in Sydney has discovered a new species of flying frog near Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Helen’s Tree Frog, Rhacophorus helenae (Jodi J. L. Rowley et al / Australian Museum)

The species, named Rhacophorus helenae or Helen’s Tree Frog, is bright green with a white belly and has webbed hands and feet like parachutes to glide from tree to tree.

Dr Rowley was stunned to discover the large, 10-cm-long species surprisingly close to the urban center with over 9 million people. “It was incredibly rare and very exciting to find a new species of frog less than 100km from one of the largest cities in South East Asia,” she said.

“To discover a previously unknown species of frog, I typically have to climb rugged mountains, scale waterfalls and push my way through dense and prickly rainforest vegetation,” Dr Rowley, lead author of a paper reporting the discovery in the Journal of Herpetology.

“I certainly didn’t expect to find a new species of frog sitting on a fallen tree in lowland forest criss-crossed by a network of paths made by people and water buffalo, and completely surrounded by a sea of rice-paddies.”

“The large frog has likely evaded biologists until now by spending most of its time out of sight, in the canopy of large trees.”

Dr Rowley said she chose to name the frog species in honor of her mother, Helen Rowley, who has steadfastly supported her only child trekking through the forests of Southeast Asia in search of frogs.

“My mother was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer and I thought it was about time that I showed her how much I appreciate everything she’s done for me and everything that she’s put up with over the years,” she said.

To date, Rhacophorus helenae is only known from two patches of lowland forest in the middle of agricultural land not far from Ho Chi Minh City.

“Lowland forests are among the most threatened habitats in the world. Another, more well-known species reliant on lowland forests, the Javan Rhino, was confirmed extinct in Vietnam in October 2011,” Dr Rowley said.

“The new species is at great risk due to ongoing habitat loss and degradation – the greatest threat to amphibians throughout Southeast Asia – but hopefully it has been discovered just in time to help protect it.”

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Bibliographic information: Jodi J. L. Rowley et al. 2012. A New Species of Large Flying Frog (Rhacophoridae: Rhacophorus) from Lowland Forests in Southern Vietnam. Journal of Herpetology 46: 480-487; doi: 10.1670/11-261