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The vampire flying frog.
The new "vampire flying frog" species in Vietnam in an undated picture.

Photograph courtesy Jodi Rowley, Australian Museum

The "fangs" of a vampire flying frog tadpole.

Vampire frog tadpoles have small black fangs. Photograph courtesy Jodi Rowley, Australian Museum

Charles Choi

for National Geographic News

Published January 7, 2011

The mountain jungles of Vietnam are home to a new breed of "vampire"—a "flying" tree frog dubbed Rhacophorus vampyrus.

First found in 2008, the 2-inch-long (5-centimeter-long) amphibian is known to live only in southern Vietnamese cloud forests, where it uses webbed fingers and toes to glide from tree to tree.

Adults deposit their eggs in water pools in tree trunks, which protects their offspring from predators lurking in rivers and ponds.

"It has absolutely no reason to ever go down on the ground," said study leader Jodi Rowley, an amphibian biologist at the Australian Museum in Sydney.

However, that trick isn't what earned the species its bloodsucking name. Rather, it's the strange curved "fangs" displayed by its tadpoles, which the scientists discovered in 2010.

"When I first saw them by looking through a microscope, I said, 'Oh my God, wow,'" said Rowley, whose research is funded in part by the National Geographic Society's Conservation Trust. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

(See "Vampire Moth Discovered—Evolution at Work.")

Frog Fangs Still a Mystery

Tadpoles normally have mouthparts similar to a beak. Instead, vampire tree frog tadpoles have a pair of hard black hooks sticking out from the undersides of their mouths—the first time such fangs have been seen in a frog tadpole. (See more frog pictures.)

The scientists do not yet know what purpose the fangs serve. However, frogs that raise tadpoles in tree-trunk water holes often feed their young by laying unfertilized eggs as meals. The fangs, Rowley speculated, could help in slicing these open.

The new vampire flying frog species was formally described on December 21 in the journal Zootaxa.

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