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World’s smallest known vertebrate – this frog is so small, it was hiding between insects

Posted September 29, 2019

Our World is still rich in its biodiversity. There are so many different animals and plants that we are absolutely certain that many species are still not discovered. Just take a look at the Paedophryne amauensis – this tiny frog was discovered in 2009 and immediately became known as the world’s smallest known vertebrate.

It is really incredible, how many species fit on our Earth and how diverse they are. The largest vertebrate in existence is the blue whale, which is also the largest mammal. It can grow up to almost 30 metres in length and can weigh up to 173 tonnes. And don’t think that there were larger animals before – blue whale is the largest animal known to have ever existed.

There are some pretty large reptiles as well. Saltwater crocodile is the largest of them all and can grow up to 6 metres in length and weigh as much as 1,000–1,075 kg. But we are not to talk about the largest ones – we are here to show you the smallest vertebrate that we know of.

Paedophryne amauensis on US dime – the diameter of the coin is just under 18 mm. Image credit: Rittmeyer EN, Allison A, Gründler MC, Thompson DK, Austin CC via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.5)

Paedophryne amauensis is the smallest known species of vertebrate. For the longest time it was thought to be the local legend of Papua New Guinea, because scientists simply could not find any specimens of them. Part of the reason why is the noise they make – Paedophryne amauensis chirps like an insect. Of course, the second part of the reason is the minute size of this frog and its perfect camouflage.

Paedophryne amauensis was discovered by Louisiana State University herpetologist Christopher Austin and his PhD student Eric Rittmeyer in 2009. Of course, scientific bureaucracy delayed the official recognition of the discovery – the study was published in 2012. That is the date when Paedophryne amauensis officially got its name and the title of the world’s smallest known vertebrate.

X-ray of a paratype of Paedophryne amauensis – the length of this frog is no more than just 7.7 mm. Image credit: Rittmeyer EN, Allison A, Gründler MC, Thompson DK, Austin CC via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.5)

Paedophryne amauensis is just 7.7 mm in length – it could easily sit on your fingernail. Of course, it wouldn’t like that – due to a high surface to volume ratio these frogs lose water really easily and prefer staying in the moist leaf litter on the floors of tropical forests. Paedophryne amauensis are great athletes, capable of jumping thirty times their body length. They feed on small invertebrates, such as insects and worms.

When it comes to mating, males produce a high-pitched noise, similar to that of insects, ranging from 8400 to 9400 Hz. Interestingly, Paedophryne amauensis skips tadpole stage and hatch as  ‘hoppers’ – miniatures of the adults.

Because these frogs were discovered fairly recently, their conservation status has not been established yet. Hopefully, they are doing find, finding plenty of invertebrates to eat and habitats to live in. However, we don’t know if Paedophryne amauensis will be able to enjoy the title of the world’s smallest known vertebrate – maybe we will discover a smaller fish or even a smaller frog.

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