Rhombophryne vaventy Scherz, Ruthensteiner, Vences & Glaw, 2014




Published today in Zootaxa:

Zootaxa 3860 (6): 547–560 (10 Sept. 2014)
A new microhylid frog, genus Rhombophryne, from northeastern Madagascar, and a re-description of R. serratopalpebrosa using micro-computed tomography


If you do not have a ResearchGate account, message me if you would like a copy of the manuscript. If you do have a ResearchGate account, it will be uploaded to my profile later today (as soon as I get the author’s copy).

NovaTaxa Blog 10: Rhombophryne sp. nov. 1-?, Geckolepis sp. nov. 1

It has been a long time since my last #NovaTaxa Blog. Three months to be precise. For all the new followers, #NovaTaxa blogs are where I talk about the taxonomic work I am doing at the moment.

To see previous #NovaTaxa blogs, click here or the following links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

Rhombophryne sp. nov. 1

The resubmitted manuscript was just approved! It should be appearing in print in a matter of weeks!!

Rhombophryne spp. nov. 2 & 3

This manuscript is now nearing completion. Molecular phylogenetic data was just added by one of my co-authors, and my supervisor is working with the eighth version of the manuscript now. I am really pleased with this manuscript - it is very short and to the point. I’m still waiting on one section by another co-author, and am aiming to submit to Herpetologica by the 30th of August! This will be my first time submitting a paper myself, and also being corresponding author! I am very excited.

Rhombophryne spp. nov. 4-?

I’ve received specimens from the Natural History Museum of Turin, Italy, of two species of frog closely related to the three I have described. They were collected and sent to me by Dr. Franco Andreone. Specimens of a further species is apparently on the way. These specimens share the characteristic superciliary spines that define this group of frogs. Thus, while material for DNA extraction is regrettably not available, I can be reasonably sure that these specimens belong to the group. We will be trying to extract DNA from the specimens, however, just to confirm relationships.

I am waiting to hear from the American Museum of Natural History, as they have, or had, specimens that also undoubtedly belong to this group. These specimens may either represent a new species or, hopefully, the real Rhombophryne serratopalpebrosa, which is the type species for the group but of which we have only a single specimen.

This manuscript is going to appear as a single, long paper containing at least two, but up to as many as five, species descriptions. I imagine it is going to take a very long time to write.

Geckolepis sp. nov. 1

In the last post I announced that I would be working on a new species of Geckolepis. I have started this work in earnest now: the manuscript is starting to take form, a holotype has been selected, and soon I will take morphological measurements and micro-CT scans of it. I have even started preparing a morphological figure for it:


This species is possibly the easiest recognised of all Geckolepis, characterised by its extremely large scales. The above figure is based on this photo taken of the new species in situ:

I am pleased to say that I will be using this photo and the above figure in my description, with permission from Arthur Anker, who took the photo.

The aim is to be finished with this manuscript by the end of October. It is part of a university project, and so I have to hand in a first draft by the beginning of September, and have the final paper ready for submission in October, along with a poster and a short presentation. I am aiming to submit to a higher impact factor journal, so I have come up with a snappy (and punny) title.

Geckolepis sp. resurrection

Sometimes taxonomists synonymise two or more species based on the inability to distinguish them morphologically. Occasionally, careful morphological studies or genetic data reveal that these instances of synonymisation have been erroneously performed, and then the old name has to be brought back. It turns out that this is a thing that has happened to a species of Geckolepis. I can’t go into the specifics, but one of my colleagues has discovered through genetic data that a species that was synonymised is in fact a bona species, and because I was already working on some Geckolepis, I did the morphological data collection (with the help of my partner). We hope to publish this paper by the end of the year, probably around the same time as my new species.

What’s next? (because I clearly don’t have enough projects going on at once as it is)

What’s the next project? Not sure yet. Once these projects are out of the way, I start a new big one similar to Cynthia’s for my Master’s thesis. My supervisor and I have also been discussing my PhD, and have agreed that it too will be on the topic of Integrative Taxonomy, meaning a lot more species descriptions, mostly using a combination of morphometrics, genetics, and micro-CT technology. So keep your eye out for more #NovaTaxa blogs in future!

To see previous #NovaTaxa blogs, click here or the following links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

Skull triangular in dorsal view. Vomer small, without visible teeth. Palatine extending anteroventrolaterally from the sphenethmoid with ventral serrations. Teeth are present on the maxilla, premaxilla, and mandible. Premaxilla ⊥-shaped in anterior view, U-shaped in dorsal view; a thick lateral ramus and tapering medial ramus extend posteriorly from the anterior plate of bone. Septomaxilla U-shaped in dorsal view, nearly forming a closed ring, consisting of two posterior-pointing rami: a sharply pointed medial ramus, and a pointed lateral ramus. The lateral ramus has an apophysis on its medial edge extending almost below the medial ramus, thus nearly closing the ring. Squamosal Y-shaped, with a broad anterior process on its stem. Nasal broad with two rami forming a U-shape on the lateral margin of the bone; the posterior ramus longer and thinner than the anterior. Columella with a long stem and curved foot.

An excerpt from a species description I am currently working on. I just wanted to show how dense a species description can be. It’s hard to describe a three-dimensional, non-standard shape. The result is extremely dense language that really must be accompanied by photos to make any sense at all.

I have learned that practice makes this much easier. My first species description is extremely weak in its skeletal description. This paper is much better.

NovaTaxa Blog 1: Rhombophryne sp. nov. 1

Describing a new species is a thing I have always wanted to do. And hope to continue to do for the rest of my career.

Today I started my first description. Of this handsome fellow:


The new species I am now working on is a frog from the rainforests of Marojejy, in northeastern Madagascar. We know that it is distinct on the basis of molecular data, but now I have to find other data to corroborate that information. So I am looking at its morphology, osteology (using micro-CT scans), call data if there is any, and colouration. Fortunately a few photos exist of the holotype (the ‘voucher’ for the whole species) while it was still alive. Unfortunately, only one specimen of this new species is currently in Europe. A second one is in Madagascar right now, so we might have to ask for a loan from Tana to get it.

Then I have to choose a name. There was one already proposed by my supervisor and his colleague, but it might still be flexible, which means I somehow have to come up with a good latin name for the species.

I have also learned that working with frogs is quite different to working with lizards and snakes. They dry out MUCH faster once they have been taken out of the alcohol. So I have to keep dipping it back in. Which is hard because the jar it belongs in is quite a bit smaller than ideal. Oh well.

It looks also like we are going to have to do this paper quite quickly, and then produce a larger revision of the complex to which it belongs, because there are several new species in the group. It’s pretty great - more fun work for me.

So the verdict from my first day of species description is that it is going to be fun. I’m starting pretty slow, but the indications are that we might be able to submit the description for publication before the end of 2013, which would be fantastic.

By the way, I am going to be using the tag #NovaTaxa for all future blogs on the topic of species descriptions. All blogs related to this particular frog will use the tag #Rhombophryne sp. nov. 1, because the chances are high that it will be the first of many Rhombophryne frogs I describe (there are 12 undescribed species in this genus right now).

NovaTaxa Blog 2: Rhombophryne sp. nov. 1

Last week I made some pretty great progress on my first species description - I did a description of the morphology of the holotype, and its colour in preservative, and in life based on a photograph, which turns out not to be of the frog in question, but of the paratype that is currently sitting in the museum in Antananarivo, Madagascar - a bit awkward. Today, I made up for that oversight, and continued the work on the species description.

I started off looking at the (now correct) photo of the holotype, which is unfortunately still an un-scanned slide, and doing a description of the colouration in life, and an elaboration of the description of the colour after eight years in preservative (almost the same). I had my supervisor check over all of the details of this as I said it, so that I could make sure that he agreed. Colour in life is very important, and you have to get it right. We also did a description of the paratype’s colour in life, to add a little to the knowledge of the species, which we are describing based on just one individual.

We then took the measurements - a set of sixteen features, ranging from the width of the eye and tympanum, to the length of the legs and feet. Because my supervisor is the leader in the field and literally wrote the book, I am learning the exact way to do this, which is amazing.

This brings us almost to the close on this species! For a normal species description, the only parts that would still need to be written are the Diagnosis (i.e. how do you distinguish this species from all other species), Available Names (if there are any names which have been synonymised in the past, which is unlikely), Natural History notes (i.e. how was it found, what do we know about it - practically nothing), and of course we still have to decide on a firm new species name. The species has a working name, but I have come up with some alternatives which I will pitch when we come to the right moment. Quite exciting!

But that’s not the end! Two further things need to be added to the paper we are producing.

Firstly, we are doing CT scans, as I said last week, to compare the osteology of the new species and at least one other, and thus establish skeletal features that can be used to differentiate between species (Microhylids are characterised by strong differentiations in their skeletal structures).

Secondly, we are going to re-describe a species described by Guibé in 1975: Rhombophryne serratopalpebrosa. This species is similar to our new species in some respects (most notably, it too has fleshy spines above its eyes, after which it has been named), but is much smaller and smoother-skinned, and easy to differentiate. Unfortunately, it is hard to judge what the frog looked like when it was alive, because some idiot dyed the holotype bright green and now it looks like an alien.


These frogs are naturally a lightish brown. I want to smack this person in the face.

My description+re-description paper will set up a framework for the differentiation of the other cryptic species within the R. serratopalpebrosa-complex, which will facilitate more work on these frogs in the future.

So this is what I will start next week. I’m super excited. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun doing ‘work’ before.

NovaTaxa Blog 9: Rhombophryne spp... and the next project!

Lots of news and information to bring in this NovaTaxa update!

Rhomborphyne sp. nov. 1

I received a response from the editors of Zootaxa - the manuscript for Rhombophrnye sp. nov. 1 has been accepted pending minor changes! This is my first exposure to the peer-review process, so it was interesting to see how the advice for changes was laid out, and what kind of feedback I got. Most of it was very positive - the only real complaints were about my short paragraphs and occasionally long sentences.

After eight solid hours of work, and well over 400 changes, I have made all of the revisions, and the manuscript is ready for re-submission.


I’ve sent it back to my supervisor for final review, and he will then resubmit by the end of the week, so hopefully it will be in print soon! I can’t wait!

Rhomborphyne spp. nov. 2 & 3

The description paper for Rhombophryne spp. 2 and 3 is currently stalled, as I am waiting to hear back from my supervisor. However, I am still able to make progress while I wait, because I now have the CT models of the frogs to work with, and need to write their osteological descriptions.


However, there’s a bit of a problem with those descriptions. In R. sp. 2, the bones are quite calcium-poor, and the result is that joints, and especially small bones, don’t show up on the microCT scans.


We are trying to figure out how to fix this, but at present there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do. Interestingly, this seems to be the case in both individuals of this species, so low calcium levels may be common to the species (though admittedly we hardly have a representative sample; n=2).

This second manuscript is, however, almost done, and will soon be submitted to Herpetologica. We will then start to prepare the final manuscript in this series, containing descriptions of an additional three or four species, specimens for which will be sourced from various institutions around the world.

NEW PROJECT! Geckolepis sp. nov.!

I have now begun a new project! I asked for something outside of the other descriptions so that I can have constant work, rather than having to wait to hear back every time. For my master’s project, I have to do an individual research training, and I figured another species description would be appropriate. I asked for something new, and told my supervisor I would be happy to work on amphibians or reptiles. He took this to mean I would like to work on a reptile, and so we have decided that I will probably describe a new species of Geckolepis which is known from Ankarana, in western Madagascar.

I imagine that many of my followers will be familiar with Geckolepis, as they are SUPER adorable geckos:

Geckolepis typica, my photo.

Their taxonomy is complicated, and it is unclear how many species they constitute. They have the difficulty of not being diagnosable based on scale counts, because their scales shed so easily. However, there are methods that have been used in the past, and I will be referring to these in order to carry out my description work.

I am very excited about this new project, and really looking forward to it! But now I have another whole world of literature to bring myself up to speed on. The prospect is daunting, though slightly attenuated by the fact that I am familiar with much of the literature already, having been interested in the taxonomy of Madagascar’s geckos for over a decade…

(Also if the Geckolepis species description doesn’t work, we’ll do a Paroedura instead. Life is hard and full of trials).

That’s all for this week’s #NovaTaxa blog! To read the rest of the #NovaTaxa posts, follow these links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Or of course you can browse my #NovaTaxa tag!

NovaTaxa Blog 3: Rhombophryne sp. nov. 1

So far I have made really great progress on my first species description (see last week’s update here).

Today, the priority was to re-describe a similar species to my new species, Rhombophryne serratopalpebrosa. Sometimes species have to be re-described because their descriptions were published in a language other than English, the description is outdated/bad and new diagnostic characters are needed, or when a very similar species is being described, and it has to be distinguished from the old species. All three of these are the case for this species, so a new description is warranted.

So today, I managed to do a description of the holotype of R. serratopalpebrosa, an individual collected in 1972, which had its sides cut open to check its sex, and its chest cut open to look at its ribcage, and has been dyed bright green for no obvious reason.


The description included morphology (based on the original French description by Guibe, published in 1975, together with my own examination of the specimen), the colouration (a direct translation of the original French, because the specimen is no longer a good representation of its natural colouration), and the series of twenty measurements that have been somewhat standardised across Madagascar’s frogs.

This almost brings this description to a close. The only thing missing now is to write the diagnoses (how EXACTLY these species differ from all the others in the genus), and then I will hand it over to my supervisor, who will write the rest of the bulk of the paper.

All told, everything is going very quickly, and I am very pleased. We hope to be able to submit before the end of the year! Fingers crossed that that will be possible.