News & Events

Frog
Photo by Alessandro Catenazzi
The Bryophryne hanssaueri is one of the three types of new species of frogs discovered by Lehr and Catenazzi.
Professor Helps to Discover New Species of Frog

September 28, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Edgar Lehr, assistant professor of biology at Illinois Wesleyan University, is part of a duo that recently discovered three new species of frogs living in the forests of southern Peru.

Lehr and his partner, Swiss-Peruvian ecologist Alessandro Catenazzi from the University of California at Berkeley, have worked together to uncover more than 10 new species of amphibians. “We should know what else is living on our planet,” said Lehr, who noted scientists estimate there are between 5 million to 100 million organisms on Earth, with only about 2 million classified. “So we are far from a true understanding of the complete planet.”

The three recently discovered species are excellent examples of the diversity of amphibians, according to Lehr. All three new species – Bryophryne hanssaueri, Bryophryne gymnotis, and Bryophryne zonalis –  actually do not have a tadpole phase. “Every school child learns that frog eggs turn into tadpoles, but across the globe, there are frogs who carry eggs on their back, or in pouches on their back. There was even a frog in Australia that swallowed eggs to let them develop inside her stomach,” he pauses and smiles. “Can you tell I love frogs?” With their discovery, there are now six known Bryophryne species.

Over the past several years, Lehr has made nearly two dozen trips to the Peruvian forests. His first journey there dates back to 1997, when he was working on his doctorate from the University of Frankfurt am Main in Germany. After earning his degree, he worked at the State Natural History Collections in Dresden, Germany, where he was the curator of herpetology. He joined the Illinois Wesleyan biology faculty this fall.

Frog Cloud
Photo by Edgar Lehr
The Cloud Forest in Peru, where Assistant Professor of Biology Edgar Lehr travels often for research.

Along with advancing the field of biology with their discoveries, Lehr said he and Catenazzi are also assisting conservation efforts in Peru, reinforcing the necessity of the protection of the national forests where the frogs were discovered. “Will tourists be able to see each type of frog discovered? Probably not,” said Lehr. “But when we report the discoveries to the Peruvian ministries, it strengthens their arguments that national forests are needed for these species we never knew existed.”

The co-author of Terrestrial-Breeding Frogs (Stabomantidae) in Peru (Natur- und Tier-Verlag, 2009) Lehr has built an impressive career studying amphibian species. First published at the age of 17, he discovered a new species of turtle at age 23 when he was studying in South Vietnam, and so far has described 70 new species. He is the recipient of several grants, including those from the German Research Foundation, the BIOPAT initiative, the Alexander von Humbolt Foundation, the Field Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History. He is associate editor of the Journal of Herpetology.

Lehr plans to return to Peru to continue his research and classification of amphibian species. “I enjoy the vastly diverse biodiversity,” he said. “I will travel there until I cannot travel anymore.” Continuing the research is important for humans to have a deeper understanding of our home, he added. “When we understand more about the species that live on this planet, we can understand how we are interconnected, and how each species contributes to our lives.”

Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960