Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Want my Baby Back

I apologize for the unintentional hiatus last month, but I start as a Master’s student next month, and preparations for such have gotten in the way of blogging. As it sounds like my workload will increase massively once school actually starts, don’t be surprised if Endangered Ugly Things continues on a monthly schedule for a while. I hate to say it, but in a fight between my blog and my education, my education wins out (barely).

Two weeks ago, both my girlfriend and my aunt sent me a link to MSNBC’s article on the “Top 10 Oddballs of the Animal World,” highlighting what they consider the weirdest looking animals out there. I hate to say, I could probably give some of those a run for their money1. It did point me back to EDGE’s amphibian list with a burrowing frog similar to the one I wrote about in May. I was worried about featuring another amphibian so soon (Ha!), but the Conservation Issue of The Year is the amphibian decline, so maybe two frog posts are justified. That, and this one deserves it.
Image from EDGE
Image from EDGE

The Myer’s Surinam Toad (Pipa myersi) belongs to a genus of frogs whose looks never fail to gather attention. As (according to EDGE) one naturalist put it:

"…looking – as all pipa toads look in repose – as though she had been dead for some weeks and was already partially decomposed."
A lovely image, though probably quite helpful in camouflaging themselves among the leaves within the Panamanian swamps they call home.

As swamps are not exactly known for their clarity, Surinam Toads have reduced eyes. They instead rely on fancy lobed fingers to feel out their prey, which they then grab or simply vacuum up—long sticky tongues simply won’t work underwater. Their prey preference appears to be what I like to call “any animal smaller than its head.”

What I find truly ugly about Surinam Toads is not the fact that they look like an unfortunate road-kill accident. It’s their baby rearing techniques. During mating, the couple maneuvers themselves such that about 100 eggs are spread along the sticky back of the female. These are gradually absorbed into the skin, where the young develop. Most Surinam Toad young go through their entire metamorphosis in their mother’s backs, emerging as tiny froglets (seen here2). The Myer’s Toad lets the kids out a little early, with the young emerging into the world as tadpoles.

If you’ll find the range map on the EDGE website, you’ll get an idea why Myer’s Surinam Toad is listed. If anything has a total range of less than 5000 sq. km, then it automatically gets on the endangered list. Habitat loss and fragmentation is probably aiding in their decline, though too few have been found to conduct a thorough population estimate. They are found in a reserve, so there may be hope to see baby tadpoles pushing their way out of their mother’s skin for years to come.

1Both my girlfriend and Phantom Midge have suggested I write about the Yeti Crab. However, so little is known about it that it isn’t listed anywhere, as well as the fact that there is only one photograph of it. I do think it should be adapted into plush form, though.
2It should be said that I find this creepy enough that I can’t watch the entire video. It looks like something from a horror film.