A colossal volcano in Kenya is home to a small, previously unknown species of toad, researchers discovered, challenging their understanding of amphibians in East Africa.
Not only does the toad belong to a new species, but it’s a member of an entirely new genus, according to a study published on Nov. 7 in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.
Researchers trapped a male specimen in 2015 along the craggy slopes of Mount Kenya, an extinct volcano and the second tallest peak in Africa.
“We were really surprised to see this animal – it didn’t look like anything we had seen before,” co-authors Patrick Malonza and Victor Wasonga said in a Natural History Museum news release.
The amphibian, given the name Kenyaphrynoides vulcani, is distinguished by brown and green markings and large fingertips — indicating it may be a skilled climber.
It’s also armed with spikes on its thumbs called nuptial spines, which allow males to latch onto females to breed, researchers said.
This discovery puzzled scientists because it throws a wrench into the concept of the “Kenyan Interval,” which describes the striking dearth in amphibian biodiversity in Kenya as compared to neighboring countries.
While Tanzania and Ethiopia are teeming with various kinds of amphibians, Kenya — as a consequence of its recurring tectonic activity — is believed to be more forbidding for frogs and other amphibians.
“Many of Kenya’s mountains are volcanic or geologically comparatively new, so to find an ancient lineage that has persisted for millions of years is mind-blowing,” Simon Loader, a vertebrate curator at the museum, said in the release. “It’s a real conundrum to figure out how it got here.”
In order to explain this quandary, researchers tentatively put forward a hypothesis.
“It seems like it might once have had a wider distribution and as the climate changed over the past (tens) of millions of years, it tracked the tropical forest as it moved, with the toad’s final destination being the top of Mount Kenya,” Loader said.
In order to better understand the “enigmatic species,” further studies will be required, researchers said.