Rare mutant living in outback waterhole a 'once in a lifetime' discovery

Blue amphibians are seldom seen in Australia because they are quickly taken as prey. But this odd little creature is believed to be very old.

A Magnificent Tree Frog (Litoria splendida) with a rare blue colour mutation sitting on a rock near a water hole in the Kimberley.
A Magnificent Tree Frog (Litoria splendida) with a rare blue colour mutation was discovered at a Kimberley waterhole. Source: J Barker AWC

Kermit the Frog from The Muppets famously sang the words “It’s not that easy bein’ green. Having to spend each day the colour of the leaves”.

But life for one small Aussie frog is wildly more challenging. A rare genetic mutation has caused it to completely change colour. And experts have characterised it as a “once-in-a-lifetime” discovery.

What got them jumping with excitement was a rare blue Magnificent Tree Frog (Litoria splendida). Found near an outback waterhole at a wildlife sanctuary in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, it’s the first time scientists from the non-profit Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) have seen one with this colouring.

“It was after dark when we first spotted it, perched on a bench in the workshop near our research centre. It was very exciting,” its field ecologist Jake Barker recalled.

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A normal looking Magnificent Tree Frog (Litoria splendida) at night in the Kimberley.
A normal-looking Magnificent Tree Frog (Litoria splendida). Source: A J Barker AWC

As Kermit sings, "people tend to pass you over" when you're green because you "blend in with so many other ordinary things".

Blue is the polar opposite. It's one of the rarest colours in nature and because of this, it grabs attention. For instance, the bird of paradise species uses the bold colour to cut through the greens and browns of the forest and attract a mate. The poison dart frog's bright colouring means: 'Stay away, I’m deadly'.

Colour mutations in frogs are rare, but when they do occur the results are often “spectacular”, according to frog expert Dr Jodi Rowley.

“It’s just a lovely freak of nature, we all have our own quirks,” the Australian Museum’s Curator of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Biology told Yahoo News.

“Sometimes it’s just a patch of skin. The other option is they miss the blue pigmentation and they end up being yellow.”

An ecologist spotlighting on a cliff at night on the Kimberley property.
Ecologists were spotlighting at Charnley River-Artesian Range when they found the rare frog. Source: J Barker AWC

Rowley has studied thousands of green frogs, but she's only ever seen a dozen with a blue mutation — and in real life, she's only seen one.

She believes the mutation isn’t often seen because they are not well camouflaged in nature, and predators can easily pick them out. So there’s something about this particular frog that’s quite mysterious.

“This guy is old," Rowley revealed.

"He’s really big, so he’s a few years of age. So obviously his colour isn't much of a hindrance. These kinds of frogs can live for 20 or more years."

There's an old fairy tale about a princess kissing an ugly frog and it turning into a prince. But experts who have seen the blue Magnificent Tree Frog think it's perfect as it is.

“It’s a very healthy frog. It’s definitely a showy frog. It's one of the most beautiful frogs I've ever seen," Rowley said.

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A waterhole at the Charnley River-Artesian Range Wildlife Sanctuary where the frog was found.
During the day, Charnley River-Artesian Range is a spectacular place. Source: Tom Sayers/AWC

The frog was found at the Charnley River-Artesian Range Wildlife Sanctuary which has been managed by AWC since 2011.

The team’s encounter with the frog was brief. They simply photographed the creature, which was roughly 12cm long, and then it hopped away.

It was spotted during an ecological survey of the area, and it’s hoped they may be fortunate to see it again.

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