Flying frog: new species discovered near Ho Chi Minh City

Samantha-Jo Harris Sydney Morning Herald 10 Jan 13;

Usually when the Australian Museum's Dr Jodi Rowley searches for new species of frogs she has to trek to remote locations and through the difficult terrain of Vietnam's mountains.

But Dr Rowley and her Vietnam colleagues were stunned to find their latest discovery of a new species of "flying frog" not too far from one of the largest cities in south-east Asia.

"It was really surprising to come across this huge frog so close to a heavily populated area," Dr Rowley said.

Helen's tree frog (Rhacophorus helenae), named after Dr Rowley's mother, was discovered in a lowland forest in Vietnam, an area completely surrounded by agricultural land, less than 100 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City.

Despite being commonly referred to as a "flying" frog, Dr Rowley says: "The name 'flying' frog is a little misleading as it doesn't really fly. Rather it uses its feet as parachutes to help it glide through the canopy."

But the canopy this 10-centimetre long frog calls home is under threat due to habitat loss and land degradation.

"Usually species are protected because they are in remote locations, but as this frog is so close to human activity it is at a great risk." Dr Rowley said.

She says discoveries of new species are important to conservation as it ensures species are protected.

"These forests are some of the most threatened habitat in the world so discoveries like this are very important. The first thing we need to know is what we have and the second step is to conserve what we discover."

Dr Rowley has been working in the area since 2006 and has made previous discoveries of new species, including the vampire flying frog and working in collaboration to discover and describe 12 new species in south-east Asia.

She says it is not uncommon for certain species to remain undiscovered when they live in the forest canopy.

"Species still do escape scientific attention, which makes every discovery exciting. We often don't know about them and they are protected because they live in areas that are so hard to get to."

Dr Rowley said naming the frog in honour of her mother, Helen, was the perfect way to thank her for years of support.

"At the time my mum had just been recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer and I thought it was about time I show her how much I appreciate all she has done for me over the years," she said. "It was a very difficult time, but she finished chemotherapy about a year ago and she is doing OK."

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