The mimic frog (Ranitomeya imitator) is the first vertebrate, and only the second known animal, to suggest that mimicry can split populations into separate species, according to a study published recently in Nature Communications. The other animal is a group of Heliconius butterflies, which are also found in South America.
|Ranitomeya imitator, dubbed Varadero, a poison dart frog that mimics its neighbor R. fantastica, is seen in San Gabriel de Varadero, Peru. Photograph by Evan Twomey|
We can’t hold the frog in our hands just yet, though—the new species may not finish evolving for several thousand more years.
Separate geographic populations of R. imitator can look wildly different, depending on the frog species they’re mimicking. In north-central Peru, two R. imitator populations colorfully masquerade as two contrasting poison frog species: The splash-back poison frog (R. variabilis) or red-headed poison frog (R. fantastica).