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New frog species discovered by Wooster professor of biology

Zoe Covey

Features Editor

The biology department’s Dr. Rick Lehtinen recently discovered his sixth new species: a plant-breeding frog. This find was particularly special because it happened around the time of The College of Wooster’s 150th anniversary in 2016, and the frog was officially recognized in the European Journal of Taxonomy in July of this year. The closeness of the discovery to the anniversary partially inspired the name that Lehtinen gave his frog: Guibemantis woosteri.

“I love Wooster,” Lehtinen said when speaking on his choice to name the frog after the College. “I think this is a great school. I’ve taught here for over 16 years, and I’ve grown tremendously during that time. The support I have received here as a teacher and a scholar and just as a person has been incredible. This was one way of giving back, especially since we just celebrated Wooster’s 150th anniversary in 2016.”

While doing research as a Wooster professor and as a graduate student, Lehtinen has done much of his work in Madagascar.

“I chose to work in Madagascar because there are very high levels of biodiversity there, and, even today, it remains poorly studied biologically. So there was an opportunity to make important contributions to knowledge. I also had connections there through my graduate school advisor which made things easier (but by no means easy),” he said. He has also done frog research in Costa Rica, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States. Most of these areas contain tropical forests, which are where the plant-breeding frogs that Lehtinen studies reside.

Plant-breeding frogs are different from the frogs that may be considered usual by many people. “‘Normal’ frogs breed in ponds, lakes or streams. A plant-breeding frog is one that breeds in pools of water that accumulate in parts of a plant, such as tree holes, leaf axils, etc. They are often smaller than other frogs and frequently have unusual parental care behaviors,” said Lehtinen.

The Guibemantis woosteri can sit on a quarter “with room to spare,” according to Lehtinen. Having discovered his sixth new species, Lehtinen is becoming a veteran of the frog-finding business.

“The first two were particularly special since it was the first time I’d named a new life form and I’d worked on those two species very closely in the field. Subsequent ones have still been a thrill but maybe not quite as special as the first two,” he said.

Lehtinen has been on the lookout for wild creatures his entire life. This lifelong curiosity about frogs began as a child.

“I was one of those kids who came home with worms and snakes and toads in my pockets and have always been fascinated and inspired by nature. Somehow, that resulted in my interest in frogs,” said Lehtinen.

As for where he will look now for the next big discovery, Lehtinen has some places in mind.

“Working in Madagascar and these other places has only increased my desire to explore other parts of the world to study plant-breeding frogs. Places like Vietnam, Borneo, Colombia and Brazil are a few places I’d love to work in down the road,” said Lehtinen.

 

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