Animals

New Frog Species Named After Fabled Female Warriors

The Brazilian amphibian's name pays homage to indigenous culture and a newly discovered trait. Tuesday, 24 July

By Liz Langley
Photographs By RENAN OLIVEIRA

The name of a newly described species of frog, native to the Amazon Basin in northern Brazil, has some serious girl power.

The frogs have reticulated, semi-transparent eyelids, spines on their hands, and are named for ancient female warriors of Brazilian lore.

A team of researchers from Brazil and the U.S. describes the new species, called Boana icamiaba, July 20 in the South American Journal of Herpetology.

Mythical Tribe

The species is a new kind of gladiator frog, a group that has large spines near their thumbs. True to the name, these spines are typically used in male-male combat over females or territory.

There are 93 species of gladiator frogs, including the map frogs,which have transparent eyelids and, in most cases, lack the gladiator spines.

The new species was thought to be part of that group. But a closer look at specimens at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi in Pará, Brazil, where lead author Pedro Peloso is a research associate, revealed that it actually does have spines, after all.

The study reclassified some Boana species, and DNA analysis verified that this new frog belongs among the map frogs.

So, now that we know that this tiny tree frog is armed with spines, Peloso, also a research associate at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, set about naming the newbie.

He remembered the legend of the Amazonas, a female-only warrior tribe in the region described anecdotally by 16th-century explorers. They were originally called “Icamiabas,” which roughly translates to “broken breasts,” suggesting breasts either flattened or mutilated for better use of a bow and arrow, like the Amazons of Greek mythology. It’s said these fabled women gave the Amazon River its name.

“The analogy with the Icamiabas was appropriate —gladiator frogs hidden among a group of non-gladiators,” he says. Only one other species, a hooded tickspider, also honors the tribe with this moniker.

Observations of Boana icamiaba have been limited, so it’s not yet known how they use the spine. In other species, it’s used in mating situations, to hold off other males and hold onto females, says Arturo Muñoz Saravia, a doctoral student at the University of Ghent in Belgium and coordinator of the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative, who was not involved in the study.

Camouflaged

Another unique trait of the new species is a set of tiger-like black stripes down the side of its brown body, a color that allows this nocturnal frog to blend well into trees in the daytime.

The study validates something Muñoz Saravia and his colleagues wondered about.

“We were thinking several years ago, yes, there should be more species under that name,” when studying Boana geographica in the Bolivian lowlands. Now there are Boana icamiaba and six more Boana species not yet described.

Fortunately these frogs are apparently not affected by the fungus that has caused a shocking decline in amphibians worldwide.

Deforestation, though, is still a threat to many species in this incredibly diverse landscape.

We’d hate to see them go—as far as we’re concerned, they just got here.

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This story was originally published on NationalGeographic.com in English