a new species of Kurixalus treefrog!

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Kevin Messenger
Posts: 536
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 2:00 pm
Location: Nanjing, China
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a new species of Kurixalus treefrog!

Post by Kevin Messenger »

Welcome to the world (of scientific discovery) Kurixalus inexpectatus!

Hi all, long time no post! I’m happy to announce a new species of Kurixalus treefrog that my colleagues and I found in northern Zhejiang province back in 2018, during Dr. Amaël Borzée’s first visit to Nanjing Forestry University (at the time, he was not yet faculty, still working in Seoul), Kurixalus inexpectatus. Perhaps one of the more significant aspects of this find, is that this population is disjunct from its next closest Kurixalus relative by 663 km, 132 of which is ocean, as the next closest population is on the island of Taiwan. In mainland China, its next closest relative is 1200 km away! This is partly why we gave it this name. The etymology of the species (which is further elaborated below), is because both Amaël and I were in the region looking for something completely different. And given the distance between the next closest relatives, the find was very unexpected, hence the name (and because there was nothing crazy going on color wise or behavior wise). The backstory behind this expedition is kind of fun, so I figured I’d write up a short little summary of to the backstory of this find. I figured I’d go old school style with this and write up an old fashioned FHF report. I think I left off in Fall of 2013. I’ll try to fill in the gap at some point in the future, I swear….

The backstory:
2016: Fall. The World Congress of Herpetology in Tonglu, China. It was at this conference that I met Amaël Borzee while on one of the field excursions after talks. Amaël has been working in South Korea since 2012. At the time of this conference, I was still a Ph.D. student in the US and in China.
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2017: Fall. Following my Ph.D. graduations in May (US) and June (China), I accepted a professorship at Nanjing Forestry University in October of 2017.

2018: Spring. My first (complete) year as a new faculty member at NJFU. Amaël was interested in some collaboration in China, and he was especially interested in doing some Dryophytes [formerly Hyla] surveys in eastern China, so I invited him to come to Nanjing, and we would conduct several days of surveys in eastern central China. While his interest was in Dryophytes, mine was interested in Megophrys, so we tried to select a route that would hit both goals. We hired a university driver, Mr. Peng, loaded up with my intern for the summer, Yang Yi, and started heading south and east. We hit up some mountains that were about a 3 hour drive south and east of Nanjing that looked promising for Megophrys.

At least it looked promising from the perspective of a map, but upon arrival, not only did the immediate area not meet our requirements, nor did any of the hotels in the area.

So instead, we headed into town (Changxing). At this point, we were just looking for a place to stay as the primary area of interest for day 1 was now scrapped. Just out of pure randomness, for a hotel choice, we ended up at a “resort” called “The Wizard of Oz.” Still, to this day, I do not know why it was assigned this name…. A natural area with tea plants, a yoga studio, some creeks and pools, and then a “wild section” that was completely unmaintained.
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The resort was divided into approximately three regions. The developed portion with buildings and such.
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Nice bamboo forest in the transition between the semi-disturbed area and the wild section of the property:
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Resort area encircled, the bottom right section closer to town is the developed section, followed by the semi-disturbed middle section, and then the wild section to the NW portion of the property. The frog icon represents the location of the new species of Kurixalus:
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The “wild section” of the property:
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Aerial habitat; looking northward, away from the resort, at the northwestern end of the wild section:
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Looking back in the direction of the “resort”
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Sphenomorphus indicus:
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After getting our rooms settled, and having some dinner, we set out for the night. We started heading towards the less developed section. We would stop for nearly any and all herps found for genetic swabs, one of Amaël’s favorite pastimes:

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Bufo gargarizans:
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Fejervarya multistriata:
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A very green specimen:
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Microhyla fissipes
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Big headed treefrog, Polypedates megacephalus
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Hylarana/ Sylvirana latouchii:
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As we got further from the more developed part of the resort, I heard a frog call that I had never heard before from this region of China. I have been slowly “collecting” frog calls throughout China and was fairly good at identifying most species by call – but this was one that sounded completely different from anything I was familiar with. I called out to Amaël and Yang Yi to head over to my area so that we could track down the source. On the other side of the property fence was a small dirt road with various puddles. The frogs were somewhere nearby. It’s always fun, and frustrating, when you are right in the middle of a chorus, yet the frog still remains hidden from sight. Eventually the first individual was found:

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followed by several more. I did not recognize the species, nor did anyone else. We took plenty of photos and we took a buccal swab for some genetics, and then let the specimens go:

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Later that night we went through some books to try and come up with an ID. We had a small selection of possible candidates, but none matched up perfectly. The best we could do was match the genus, which was Kurixalus. The only issue with Kurixalus is that the closest population was on the island of Taiwan, over 600 km away, so we weren’t very confident in our ID to say the least. The buccal swab would provide us with more details on the exact identity.

The foam nest from a Zhangixalus dennysi:
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A gorgeous Zhangixalus dennysi – such cool, and large treefrogs:
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As we continued with our surveys in the region, and we continued to ponder about the mystery species, we began to think more and more about it potentially being a new species. But we didn’t want to get our hopes up, regardless, towards the end of the trip, I wanted to celebrate, and what better way to celebrate than some durian!

Some durian to celebrate!! One of, if not THE most, amazing fruits in the world….
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Looking for a dinner location down main street:
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Dinner location found:
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Razor clams! Typically speaking, aside from sushi, I’m usually not big on seafood, but man, the seafood in China is usually great! (not always, but frequently)
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Group shot of the surveying crew (from left, and going clockwise: Amael Borzee, Mr. Peng our driver, Yang Yi, and myself):
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Miscellaneous images; an awesome aquatic leech:
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A gorgeous specimen of the Pelophylax nigromaculatus complex, another group that we’re working on with a student at NJFU:
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As of today (23 June 2022), the paper has finally been published online (open access, free to download), it can be found here:
https://zookeys.pensoft.net/article/81725/

And it will also be available on my ResearchGate account (as well as all of the co-authors’ accounts as well). My account link:
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Kevin-Messenger-2

Well, that’s about it. Just a very short story covering literally the one night we had at this location before we moved on. Hope the few that took the time to peruse the story enjoyed it!
Best,
-kevin

P.S. I will do my best to catch up on all of my various stories from 2014 to present… there are so many…. And that’s the problem.
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noah k.
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Joined: November 3rd, 2011, 4:27 pm

Re: a new species of Kurixalus treefrog!

Post by noah k. »

Fantastic read, Kevin! I always appreciate your inclusion of habitat, people, and culture. Congratulations and I'm looking forwards to more write ups in the future!
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Mike Pingleton
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Location: One of the boys from Illinois
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Re: a new species of Kurixalus treefrog!

Post by Mike Pingleton »

Excellent write-up, Kevin! Congrats to you and your colleagues on the new species!
-Mike
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