I. Introduction Here are some guidelines on what information to look for and potentially include in your species account. Often, not all of this information is available; this is just to get you thinking about what’s important to know about a species. If something is not on this list but strikes you as potentially unusual, please include it.
These guidelines also provide a logical order for how information should flow within sections (e.g., for Life History: activity period, breeding season/calls/territoriality, mating/amplexus, egg/clutch description, development, adult/larval diet, adult/larval predators, abundance).
Avoid plagiarism. Do the best you can to rephrase, and cite your source (see following paragraph). Morphological descriptions have a very specialized vocabulary and often you will have to use the exact terms in the article/book (e.g., “The tympanum is indistinct.”), but you should at least be able to rewrite the sentence.
Please cite the source of your information in the body of the text, with the parentheses inside the sentence. No commas in the references. For instance: Agalychnis callidryas, the Red-Eyed Tree Frog, is a slender, colorful, medium-sized frog. Females measure up to 77 mm SVL, and males to 59 mm SVL (Savage 2002).
If your citation has a single author: (Savage 2002).
If your citation has two authors, cite them as (Duellman and Trueb 1994).
If three or more authors: (Wake et al. 2007).
(Note: this format is for the body of the text. When you enter the citation into the reference database, list all authors, e.g., Wake, D. B., Hanken, J., and Savage, J.)
II. Diagnosis and Description IIa. Diagnosis and Description: General issues Describe the morphology and coloration of the adult in life, and then, if possible, the larva. (Description of eggs and egg masses and calls should be put in the Life History section).
Start with the size, in millimeters (abbreviate as mm in the account): for frogs, the snout-vent length (SVL); for salamanders, the snout-vent length (SVL, sometimes also called the standard length) and total length (TL, which includes the tail); for caecilians, the total length (TL, including the tail if one is present).
Follow body size with the morphology (working from head to posterior), and then the coloration. In the literature, morphology is usually described before coloration for two reasons: first, the coloration in life often varies quite a bit, so it may not be diagnostic (allowing you to unambiguously identify a species); second, if a researcher is examining a preserved specimen, species identification must be made by morphology, because the coloration usually fades to shades of gray or brown in preservative.
IIb. Diagnosis What characters distinguish this species from other related species (in other words, how can it be diagnosed)? List the diagnostic characters first and then add more general details for the description.
IIc. Description: Morphology: Adult amphibians II. c. i. Description: Frog morphology
What is the snout-vent length, in mm, for the adults of each sex (may be given as a range, such as 37.5-48.3 mm-don’t round off the numbers)?
Is the head broad/wide, narrow, same width as body? Flattened?
Is the eye pupil horizontal or vertical? What shape is the pupil?
What shape is the snout? (truncated, acuminate, rounded, etc.)
Is the tympanum (external eardrum) visible/distinct, indistinct, lacking?
Are body shape characteristics mentioned (e.g., robust, globular, slender, flattened, etc.)?
What is the skin texture dorsally (on the dorsum), and ventrally (on the venter)? Is it smooth, warty (larger flat bumps), shagreened (small bumps), tuberculate (protruding bumps), spicular (small dermal spines), granular, areolate, etc.?
Are there any folds (=skin ridges) on the body (e.g., dorsolateral folds, supratympanic folds, tarsal folds, etc.)?
Are the limbs long or short, slender or robust?
What shape are the finger and toe tips (slender, rounded, expanded, etc.)? Do the digits (fingers and toes) have circummarginal discs at their tips (usually the case for arboreal frogs)? Are discs on some fingers/toes noticeably larger than others?
Is there webbing between the fingers or toes, or fringing on them? If webbing is present, how much is there? (vestigial/basal, half-webbed, 3/4-webbed, fully webbed)
What is the relative length of fingers/toes? (e.g., 3>1>4>2 for fingers, 4>5>3>2>1 for toes.)
If the frogs are fossorial (burrowing), do they have specialized protuberances for digging on the feet (= spades)?
Are there vocal sacs/gular pouches in males? If so, are they single or paired?
Do the males have nuptial pads (these may be present during the breeding season, usually on the base of the thumbs, for grasping females), and what do they look like (what color are they)?
Do they have any other specialized features like cranial crests, ‘tails’ or other characteristics that are unique their species, genus, or family?
II. c. ii. Description: Salamander morphology
What is the snout-vent length in mm? Total length, in mm (including the tail)?
Are costal grooves present? How many?
Are maxillary teeth present? How many?
Are vomerine teeth present? How many? What shape are the groups of teeth?
Is the species paedomorphic or neotenic? (adults retain juvenile morphology such as external gills)
Is webbing present on the hands/feet (as in Bolitoglossa)?
Are limbs reduced?
Is the tail base constricted?
Is the tail vertically flattened/compressed (to aid in swimming propulsion) or rounded?
What is the skin texture (usually smooth but not always)?
II. c. iii. Description: Caecilian morphology
What is the total length, in mm (including the tail if one is present)?
Are primary annuli present? Secondary annuli? Tertiary annuli? How many of each?
Are the eyes visible or are they hidden under skin and/or bone?
Is the position of the mouth terminal, subterminal, or strongly recessed?
What is the position of the sensory tentacle relative to the nostril?
Is there a true tail?
II. d. Description: Coloration of adult amphibians (frog/salamander/caecilian):
Describe the background color (= ground color) and any variation in the species (e.g., ranging from brown to green?). Dorsal and ventral coloration are quite often different so they are described separately.
Describe limb coloration, if limbs are present.
What patterning is present? (spots, stripes, bars, etc.?)
Is there sexual dimorphism in the coloration and/or patterning?
Is the species capable of changing its color (also called metachrosis, as some frogs like Pseudacris regilla)?
What color is the iris?
If the palpebrum (the membrane covering the eye) is patterned, describe it.
Describe (briefly) the coloration/patterning in preservative. Most amphibians lose color but retain at least some patterning when preserved.
II. e. Description: Tadpole/larval morphology There often isn’t any information about the larval stage, but a short description is helpful to include if available.
What is the length in mm (usually total length from snout to tail tip), and to what stage number does the size refer? (e.g., 48 mm in total length at stage 34).
Is the body shape described? (robust, slender, etc.?)
For tadpoles, are the tail fins high or low? Where do they meet with the body?
What is the shape of the tail tip (pointed, blunt, narrowing to a thin flagellum, etc.)?
On the dorsal surface, where are the eyes and nostrils located (dorsally, dorsolaterally, etc.)?
On the ventral surface, where are the spiracle (e.g., sinistral = on the left, medially = in the middle, etc.) and vent (e.g., dextral = on the right) located?
For tadpoles, what is the morphology of the mouth like? (where is it located: terminal, anteroventral, ventral, etc.? Are keratinized beaks, an oral disc, denticles, and papillae present? How many rows of denticles above and below the mouth? How many rows of papillae above, below, or lateral to the mouth? Any gaps in the rows of denticles or papillae?
What do the gills look like? (gills are present only in early tadpoles but persist longer in development for salamanders and caecilians)
II. f. Description: Tadpole/larval coloration
Describe the background color (= ground color) and patterning, dorsally and ventrally, for the body and the tail (caudal musculature and fins).
III. Distribution and Habitat: The country distribution is automatically generated from AmphibiaWeb’s database. It may not be completely current. Please check your published source and the IUCN entry for the species (www.iucnredlist.org/amphibians) and see if the countries match with AmphibiaWeb’s list for that species (and let us know if it needs to be updated).
If it’s appropriate, first describe the part of the country/countries (e.g., the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, eastern Panama, the Atlantic versant (slope) of Costa Rica) in which the species occurs.
Then describe the habitat itself briefly (e.g., lowland tropical forest, premontane or montane rainforest, etc.).
Make sure you have the elevational range at which the species occurs (e.g., 500 m-1,200 m asl—above sea level). Please get this directly from a journal article or field guide/book if at all possible. IUCN almost always lists this, if your published source doesn’t; if you use IUCN’s information, be sure to cite them.
How to cite IUCN:
If the species is classified as Least Concern, cite the information using the IUCN account author names (e.g., Bolaños et al. 2004).
If the species is classified as threatened at any level (CR, EN, VU, NT), cite the information as Stuart et al. 2008 (the IUCN information on endangered species was recently published as a book).
IV. Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors IV. a. Life History, Abundance, Activity, & Special Behaviors: Frogs
Is the frog nocturnal or diurnal?
Where can the frog usually be found in the habitat? Is it generally arboreal (in the trees or on vegetation), terrestrial (in the leaf litter or on the ground, or under cover such as rocks or logs), fossorial (burrowing), or aquatic or semi-aquatic (in the water or mostly in the water)?
Does it associate with water bodies, and if so, what type? (streams, ponds/lakes, pools, etc.) Is the water flowing (as in streams or rivers), or still (as in ponds or lakes or backwaters of streams) or standing, without circulation (as in temporary rain pools, or within bromeliad plants)? Is the water body permanent, or temporary?
What is the breeding season (May-August, rainy season, throughout the year, etc.)?
For frogs, do the males call, and what have the calls been described as sounding like? (do the females call? This is rare.) Are there any details about the call notes, structure, dominant frequencies, and harmonics? When during the day/evening/night do the frogs call? Do the males have different calls for territorial defense (male-male), advertisement (male-female), and courtship (male-female)? From where do the males make their calls (perches in the vegetation/trees, from cover underneath rocks/logs/leaf litter, adjacent to the water)? If the frogs are territorial, is territorial defense strictly auditory or do the males undergo physical combat and wrestling?
For frogs, what form does amplexus take (the breeding position)—axillary (male grasps the female under the arms), inguinal (male grasps female around the waist, just above the thighs), cephalic (very unusual—the male grasps the female around the head), etc.?
If this species is oviparous (lays eggs), where does the female lay the eggs (oviposit)—e.g., does she deposit them in the water, and if so, to what does she attach them (rocks, vegetation, etc.)? Or does she lay them arboreally, on vegetation overhanging water? Or in treeholes, in water or attached to the substrate? Or terrestrially, or in burrows?
How many eggs are in a typical clutch (usually given as a number range), and what color and size are the individual eggs?
Is there parental care given by either the male or female parent (uniparental), or both parents (biparental)? Examples of parental care include behaviors such as guarding the clutch (either males or females), ovoviviparity or viviparity (retaining embryos within the female), making a foam nest, transporting frog tadpoles to a water source (can be either sex), hydric brooding (basically, peeing on the embryos to keep them moist) or returning to nesting sites such as bromeliads or treeholes and providing unfertilized eggs for the tadpoles to consume (females, but it may be biparental care if males guide the females to the nesting sites and courtship is required to produce the unfertilized eggs)?
Do the embryos hatch as free-living larvae (tadpoles), or does this species have direct development (where tiny froglets hatch directly from the eggs, without going through a free-living tadpole stage)? Or is the species ovoviviparous or viviparous, with the female giving birth to the froglets rather than laying eggs? This is unusual but it does happen.
How long does development take, from oviposition to hatching? What habitat do the larvae prefer? How long until metamorphosis into a frog?
What do the adults eat? What do the larvae consume?
What eats them (who are the predators)? Any unusual anti-predator behavior such as feigning death or gaping to show colors inside the mouth? Is the body coloration aposematic (warning of toxicity)?
Is the species abundant or rare?
IV. b. Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors: Salamanders
Is the salamander nocturnal or diurnal?
Where is it usually found in the habitat? (is it generally arboreal (in the trees or on vegetation), terrestrial (in the leaf litter or on the ground, or under cover such as rocks or logs), fossorial (burrowing), or aquatic (in the water)?)
Does it associate with water bodies, and if so, what type? (e.g., streams, ponds/lakes, pools, etc.) Is the water flowing (as in streams or rivers), or still (as in ponds or lakes or backwaters of streams) or standing, without circulation (as in temporary rain pools, or within bromeliad plants)? Is the water body permanent, or temporary?
What is the breeding season (eg. May-August, rainy season, year-round, etc.)?
Salamanders don’t call to attract mates like frogs do, but a few species make distress sounds. Describe the sound if any.
What is courtship behavior like for these salamanders?
What does the spermatophore look like?
If this species is oviparous (lays eggs), where does the female lay the eggs (oviposit)—e.g. does she deposit them in the water, and if so, to what does she attach them (rocks, vegetation, etc.)? Or does she lay eggs arboreally (in trees)? Or in treeholes, in water or attached to the substrate? Or terrestrially, or in burrows? How many eggs are in a typical clutch (usually given as a number range), and what color and size are the individual eggs?
Do the embryos hatch as free-living larvae, or does this species have direct development (where tiny salamanders hatch directly from the eggs, without going through a free-living larval stage)? Or is the species ovoviviparous or viviparous, with the female giving birth to the salamanders rather than laying eggs? This is unusual but it does happen (e.g., Mertensiella luschani is a viviparous salamander).
Is parental care present in this species? Is it given by either the male or female parent (uniparental), or both parents (biparental)? Examples of parental care include behaviors such as guarding the clutch (either males or females), ovoviviparity or viviparity (retaining embryos within the female).
How long does development take, from oviposition to hatching? What habitat do the larvae prefer? How long until metamorphosis into the adult, if metamorphosis occurs?
Does metamorphosis occur? (if so, is it complete or partial?) or is this species paedomorphic/neotenic (retaining juvenile morphology such as external gills, into adulthood)? If the species is paedomorphic, is it obligate paedomorphosis (unable to metamorphose under any conditions), or facultative (able to transform under some conditions)?
What do the adults eat? What do the larvae consume?
What eats them (who are the predators)? Any unusual antipredator behavior (like the unken reflex)? Is the body coloration aposematic (warning of toxicity)?
Is the species abundant or rare?
IV. c. Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors: Caecilians
Many caecilians have been described on the basis of a single specimen, so rarely will there be much life history information available. Also, no captive caecilian colonies exist (researchers have occasionally collected gravid females but have generally been unable to get females and males to breed in the laboratory).
Where is it usually found in the habitat? Is it generally fossorial (burrowing), active on the surface, or aquatic or semi-aquatic (in the water)?
Is this species oviparous (laying eggs) or viviparous?
If oviparous, where does the female lay the eggs (oviposit)— in the water? Or terrestrially, or in burrows? How many eggs are in a typical clutch (usually given as a number range), and what color and size are the individual eggs?
Is larval development indirect (free-living larvae) or direct? (where juvenile caecilians hatch directly from the eggs, without going through a free-living larval stage)?
Is parental care present in this species? Examples of parental care include behaviors such as guarding the clutch (either males or females), viviparity (retaining embryos within the female), and nutrition from specialized maternal secretions.
How long does development take, from oviposition to hatching? What habitat do the larvae prefer (caecilians so far all appear to have aquatic larvae)? How long until metamorphosis into the adult, if metamorphosis occurs?
What do the adults eat? What do the larvae consume?
What eats them (who are the predators)? Any unusual antipredator behavior?
Is the species thought to be abundant or rare?
V. Trends and Threats
Is the population stable or declining? Check IUCN to see what they’ve said.
What factors might be playing a role in declines (habitat loss or fragmentation, deforestation, urbanization, agriculture, chytrid/disease, small population size, etc)?
Does the species occur within any protected areas (national parks, etc)? Are the protected areas named? IUCN will usually have this information.
Cite the IUCN account if you refer to their information;
if the species is LC (Least Concern), cite the account authors and year (e.g., Bolaños and Wake 2004).
if the species is CR, EN, VU, or NT, cite the IUCN information as Stuart et al. 2008).
VI. Relation to Humans
Is this species consumed by humans, or collected for the pet trade or traditional medicine, for example?
VII. Comments This is a catch-all section for information that doesn’t fit in the other categories.
You could include, for instance, the species authority (the authors who first described the species; e.g., "This species was first described by Boulenger (1901)."—then include that reference in the Reference section).
The etymology, or derivation of the scientific name, should go in this section (e.g. “For the red-eyed tree frog, Agalychnis callidryas, the specific epithet “callidryas” derives from two Greek words, kallos, or beautiful, and dryas, or tree nymph”).
The karyotype, if known, would fit here as well (for instance, the diploid number of chromosomes is usually 26 for frogs, or 2n = 26, but it can vary between species).
Phylogenetic relationships should go here as well (e.g., “This species belongs to the ignescens group.”)
Other information such as descriptions of skin toxins could go here, or in the Relation to Humans (if the toxins are being used in medical research), or in the Life History section since toxins are usually an anti-predator defense.
VIII. References In addition to whatever field guide you may be using, please be sure to look up some primary literature (= journal articles) for your species. Primary literature will generally have more complete descriptions of the morphology as well as the natural history of the species. You can search by scientific name in Google Scholar, or via Melvyl, you can access the Zoological Record database or the JSTOR database. Web of Science is also a great reference database that is searchable. Check the IUCN species account bibliography (www.iucnredlist.org) for potentially useful references.
The herpetology section of the Bioscience library stacks has a number of herp-related journals that are not always available online, such as Herpetologica, Alytes, Amphibia-Reptilia, etc.
Ask us if you find a reference that you cannot locate in the library.
IX. Synonymy/taxonomy Anuran (frog) taxonomy in particular is undergoing lots of change at the moment. If a species’ name has changed, you can try looking just the specific name up in AmphibiaWeb (e.g. for Colostethus brunneus, enter in only “brunneus” in the Species field of the search page).
You can also look it up on the Amphibian Species of the World (ASW) website. The site author, Darrel Frost, is a herpetologist at the American Museum of Natural History.
http://research.amnh.org/herpetology/amphibia/index.php This is an excellent taxonomic resource, and Frost keeps track of all name changes. The site is not completely intuitive to use at first, but if you have any questions, please ask and we’ll help.
Say you can’t find information on Dendrobates azureus—it’s not listed in AmphibiaWeb. On the AmphibiaWeb search page, you can try searching with just the specific name “azureus” in the Scientific Name search field, and also try "azureus" in the Account Text field.
If AmphibiaWeb’s Account Text search doesn’t turn up anything, try the ASW site.
On the ASW search page, you can input:
genus and species together into the taxon field, (taxon = Dendrobates azureus)
just the genus Dendrobates (which brings up a list of species within the genus),
just the species designation (e.g., azureus)
You’ll get a list of names: notice that the top name is the current name for the species. This species is a color variant of Dendrobates tinctorius and is now listed by that name, with Dendrobates azureus being a junior synonym and thus no longer used.
X. Contact Information Thanks for contributing to AmphibiaWeb, and to amphibian conservation!
If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail an AmphibiaWeb Team member:
Michelle Koo-- firstname.lastname@example.org
Carol Spencer-- email@example.com
David Wake-- (AmphibiaWeb director) firstname.lastname@example.org