Biological researchers have discovered a new species of frog within the more mountainous region of Borneo Island, Kubah National Park proper. This frog is actually a microfrog, named Microhyla nepethicola. The nomenclature is evident, resulting from this particular species of frogs from the Microhylid genus — micro (small) hylidae (tree frogs) — being observed in the leaves of the novel nepethentes plant for the majority of the life cycle.
Though tree frogs are commonly noted for their demure size and impressive croaks — the croaks of some species, including American native Hyla regilla, loudly resonating and recorded several miles away — this novel species boasts one new impressive attribute: being the smallest of all New World frogs.
Of all observed populations of this frog, there is a normative body measure between 10.6 to 12.8 mm. These frogs have been observed before, and even preserved in several museums worldwide. The problem is that a complete study and of the frog’s phenotypic and genotypic traits and marker was never completed, as to provide grounds for correctly classifying this micro-species as a distinct frog.
For several decades, scientists believed this frog was a juvenile form of known species of Hyla.
With the genome of most animal species, there is allowed a certain degree of phenotypic plasticity. This means that given certain environmental pressures, an animal may develop varying traits within the range of its bodies abilities.
Phenotypic Plasticity: An Objective Look into the Microhyla micro-species
To understand phenotypic plasticity, let us consider an object lesson. We will consider a colony of basic, generic insects.
Within a forest in South America, there exists an arboreal species of insect. These true bugs forage for food on the ground of the rainforest, typically using reinforced pinchers and protracted mandibles in feeding upon nuts from a particular plant in the forest. Every species of this insect typically has a range of pincher and mandible size, ranging from 8 mm – 10 mm.
A environmental catastrophe, such as a blight spreading among the source of the insect’s primary food, causes the primary plants of this particular species to die, aside from ones that produce nuts that are too large for our insects to break apart to consume. These insects are forced to forage and colonize a new biome with a different food source. The result: the new food source stunts the growth of these particular insects, also giving them a different color. This can result in these insects, from the juvenile generation forward, to appear as a new species.
In time, an investigator who found these particular insects may, on a phenotypic level, classify them as a juvenile form or even worse, a new species. This is easy to do in cases of phenotypic plasticity, and shows why in addition to a qualitative analysis, a quantitative molecular assay must be performed to determine the genome of the particular insects, or in our case, frogs.
By genetic analysis, Microhyla neperthicola, is a unique, undiscovered species. It is likely a divergent group of standard Hyla, its unique genetic structure being forged by a founder event, or environmental pressure casuing a genetic bottleneck for an isolated group, that was satisfied for continued species speciation.
Over time, the affect of the environmental pressure may yield a form of allelic exlusion, occlusion, protein upreglation, down-regulation or nullification of germ layer cells, varying traits of the species at a reproductive level. Such events can cause a point-forward micro-speciation, meaning from the original creature produced at the time of Creation, we can have alternate versions that are no longer able to reproduce with one another and are genetically disimilar enough to be considered a new species, or sub-species (as coined and determined by Ernst Mayr).
It is likely our newly discovered friends, some years ago, faced such an event and now are here for us to see and appreciate. Despite its tiny size, it was Hyla neperthicola’s amazingly harsh and loud “tree frog reproductive croak” that caught the ears of seasoned researchers, who noted the call was a bit different and coming from frogs that may have not yet been reproductive age, due to size and apparent age.
With that, the researchers looked into this frog and thankfully, have discovered a very tiny, neat species. For those of you who have never heard a tree frog’s call, here you go: