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New Red-Bellied Poisonous Toads Discovered In Remote Area of Brazil

Dec 07, 2015 04:00 PM EST

Hidden within the cloud forests of southern Brazil are three new species of poisonous toads that Federal University of Paraná researchers says evolved only a few thousand years ago. They toads have been described as between one and 2.5 centimeters with dark brown bodies that are speckled with warts and red markings. More interestingly: as the toads digest ants and mites, they create a skin chemical that can be poisonous to some predators, particularly snakes.   

"They are not dangerous to humans," Marcos Bornschein, one of the researchers who helped identify the critters, explained. "During the fieldwork, some researchers felt a numbing in their finger ends after touching them, but nothing more." 

"The great importance of this discovery is that this forest serves as an incubator for the origin of species," Bornschein added. "It's a laboratory of huge importance for the mapping and conserving and understanding of biological processes."

Based on a preliminary DNA analysis, researchers have classified new species as part of the Melanophryniscus genus and have named the closely related toads M. biancae, M. milanoi and M. xanthostomus. All three of new critters are closely related and evolved only a few thousand years ago.

Unlike many other Melanophryniscus toads that lay their eggs in ponds or streams, the new individuals lay their eggs in water collected by plants, a process known as phytotelm breeding. These pools of water are often small, so females generally lay less than 50 eggs at a time. 

That discovery was made in a fairly restricted area, between the cities of Garuva and Blumenau, which are about 60 mile apart. This suggests the species "might be severely underestimated," or worse – threatened by such a limited range.

Researchers hope their findings, recently published in the journal PLOS ONE, will help conservationists protect secluded species before it's too late.  

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