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More than a third of the 7,000-odd living species of frogs and toads are found in rain forests around the world. But the fossil record for amphibians from these kinds of wet, tropical environments has been almost nonexistent, leaving paleontologists with few clues to their early evolution. Just recently, 99-million-year-old Rain Forest Frogs were found in these deposits of amber.
Now, lumps of amber dating back to the Cretaceous period have revealed a set of four tiny tropical frogs that lived alongside the dinosaurs, making them the oldest frog fossils of their kind. The specimens include the remains of an ancient frog complete enough to be described as a new species, called Electrorana limoae .
In life, all of these frogs would have been less than an inch long, according to a paper describing the fossils today in Scientific Reports and led by National Geographic Explorer Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing. (Recently, scientists found the origins of the disease that’s wiping out modern amphibians .)
“Lizards and frogs in amber are certainly not unheard of, but ones this old are exceptional,” says Marc Jones , an expert on fossil frogs based at the Natural History Museum in London, U.K. “The frog fossil record remains biased and patchy but does include the occasional gem, like this, that helps us appreciate what we are missing.” ‘Miracle’ Donation
The 99-million-year-old frogs come from the same amber deposits in northern Myanmar that have produced many exquisite fossils, including a dinosaur tail , a couple of baby birds , intact bird wings, and countless insects .