A small South American toad — sporting red warts and bulging green eyes — had long been misunderstood. For decades, it was mistakenly lumped in with the wrong species.
But now, after analyzing 20-year-old frozen tissue samples, researchers revealed that the Bolivian amphibian belongs to a previously unknown species, one that is considered imperiled.
“After more than 2 decades of reviewing museum specimens and, most importantly, generating a DNA sequence, we finally clarified the identity of these populations,” Jörn Köhler, the lead author of a study published on Oct. 30 in the journal Salamandra, told McClatchy News in an email.
“The most striking thing is, that we (I) was wrong with the ID of these populations for so long,” Köhler said.
The newfound species is a member of the genus Rhinella, a family of beaked toads native to tropical regions in the Americas, according to iNaturalist, a citizen scientist platform.
It was given the name Rhinella kuka after the indigenous word for the coca plant, which specimens were found near, researchers said. Several of the female specimens were found with eggs.
The toads, which are reddish in color and measure about 2.5 inches long, are believed to be widespread throughout the Bolivian Yungas, a tropical forest in the center of the country.
This habitat is shrinking, though. Forests in Bolivia have been on the decline for decades, according to a study published in 2016 in the journal PLOS One.
Because of this, researchers proposed that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorize the toad as “vulnerable.”
The habitat loss in Bolivia makes the species’ discovery all the more important, Köhler said.