It’s an itsy-bitsy critter, small enough to fit on a ten-peso coin. Eleutherodactylus grunwaldi, a.k.a. Grunwald’s Chirping Frog, is a rare species recently discovered deep in the Sierra de Manantlan mountain range spanning the states of Jalisco and Colima.
The miniature frog was named after Chapala resident Chris Grunwald, a biologist who moonlights as a local real estate agent.
He is a lead member of Biodiversa A.C., a non-profit association formed by an international team of scientists who have spent the last ten years unlocking the natural secrets of Mexico’s highlands. As a result of their explorations and research, they have earned credits for finding types of snakes and amphibians previously unlisted in Mexico’s already immense catalog of native wildlife.
Last year they announced the identification of Grunwald’s Chirping Frog and a close relative called the Wixarika Chirping Frog (E. wixarika), found in the Sierra Huichola of northern Jalisco.
Both of the frogs belong to a unique group distinguished for a lifecycle that skips the aquatic tadpole stage. During the summer rains females lay several eggs in rocky terrain where they hatch 60 days later as fully-formed frogs, just millimeters long.
“This group of frogs is really unique in the animal kingdom. You don’t find their tadpoles in creeks or ponds. They lay their eggs on steep rocky cliff faces, or deep in caves with just a bit of moisture,” says Hector Franz, head of Biodiversa’s Field Logistics.
These endemic Jalisco species are distinguished from other types of the subgenus Syrrhophus by their rough skins, the reddish tone of their mottled backs and the peculiar characteristics of their padded feet. Both kinds stand out for the high-pitched nocturnal cheeping of males, heard during the rainy mating season.
The road to discovery for these tiny jumpers has been a bumpy one, Grunwald notes. “Illegal mining and logging industries tend to frown on new species being discovered in their areas of operation, as do the marijuana and poppy growers. Two years ago we were kidnapped for a few tense hours in southern Jalisco while the local cartel figured out what to do with us. Luckily, we were released unharmed, just shaken. It’s just part of the reality of field research in Mexico.”
The Biodiversa scientists worry that these ecologically destructive industries have already placed the newly minted frogs on the path to extinction. Research associate Alex Hermosillo cautions that “with such a unique habitat and set of environmental conditions required to keep this species alive, the frogs don’t cope well with disruptions like deforestation and high-impact mining.”
Cognizant that the singular animals inhabit small regions plagued by clandestine mining and logging that threatens their survival, the dedicated wildlife hunters launched their non-profit organization with the aim of applying resources to the exploration of such threatened ecosystems and establishing privately held preserves called micro-reservas in the most vulnerable areas.
In Grunwald’s words, “It’s really the only way to conserve these species. Government regulation isn’t cutting it, enforcement agencies are understaffed and, in some-cases, out-gunned! If we want to preserve Mexico’s incredibly rich biodiversity, the only guaranteed solution is to save the natural habitat. And that’s what we’re doing with these small preserves.”
For more information on Biodiversa or conservation opportunities in Jalisco, contact Grunwald at 333-953-8620 (cell).