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Museum herpetologist helps discover Vampire Flying Frog

For those who have been sucked in by Twilight and True Blood, there’s a new breed of vampire to add to the list!

Vampire Tree Frog - *Rhacophorus vampyrus*, adult male paratype NCSM 77318 - Photo by Jodi RowleyFrom the far jungles of Vietnam Rhacophorus vampyrus — the Vampire Flying Frog — has emerged as a strange new species of frog, recently discovered by Australian Museum scientist Dr Jodi Rowley along with NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ curator of herpetology Dr Bryan Stuart and their scientific colleagues at the University of Science, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

This unusual frog has adapted for life in trees, using webbed fingers and toes for moving from great heights and gliding, hence the ‘flying frog’ name. But it’s the strange black ‘fangs’ the species’ tadpoles display which have earned it a place in the vampire world.

The new species is known only to inhabit a high-elevation area of forest in southern Vietnam, breeding in holes in trees.

“It’s pretty cool that these frogs have adapted to live in the trees so completely, even using water holes in trees to breed in and protect their offspring from all the predators that lurk in rivers and ponds,” comments Rowley. “But the fanged tadpole — I’ve never seen anything like it before!”

Rhacophorus vampyrus tadpole photo showing black fangs - photo by Jodi RowleyIn place of a normal set of mouthparts (usually similar to a beak), tadpoles of the Vampire Flying Frog have a pair of hard, black ‘fangs’ protruding from the underside of their mouth. This is the first time that ‘fangs’ have been recorded in a frog tadpole.

This new discovery is giving Rowley and her colleagues plenty to think about. “Many new species of frogs are being discovered by scientists in Vietnam, but we know almost nothing about their biology,” notes Stuart. “The mysterious ‘fangs’ in the tadpole of the vampire flying frog show that we still have much to learn about how these frogs live.”

The discovery appeared in the latest edition of the journal Zootaxa.

Zootaxa Article: "A new tree frog of the genus Rhacophorus (Anura: Rhacophoridae) from southern Vietnam" (PDF)