They are comprised of toads, frogs, salamanders and cecilias. Once considered repulsive little monsters, the scientific branch that studies them – herpetology – takes its name from precisely that: in Greek “herpetos” means “monster.”
However, far from being disgusting, these creatures are in reality incredible animals with beautiful colours: sometimes visually striking, with an impressive grace and delicacy and super-sophisticated behaviours and evolutionary adaptations. They are the creatures that invade the forests at night with their metallic songs.
Amphibians are characterised by their smooth, damp skin, a protective cover of a kind of mucus, stopping them from drying out and in some cases producing venoms and toxins to kill fungi or shield themselves from predators. The special zeal they have for protecting their skin is not pure vanity: an amphibian expends a great deal of energy caring for its skin, because it is through this organ that they can breathe.
They are also directly linked to the environment where they live, living thermometers where their body temperature is always the same as that around them. Finally, they are completely different creatures in their distinct stages of life. They are born eggs and are aquatic, “willis-willis”, and when to are going to begin their adult life they go through a metamorphosis to become terrestrial (and tree-borne.)
There are three groups of amphibians: Anura (toads and frogs), Caudata (salamanders) and Gymnophiona (cecilias, commonly confused with worms or snakes). In Ecuador there are more than 460 amphibious species and of these, 200 are found in the Chocó forest, 60% of which are endemic.
Amphibians are in dire straits of conservation due to the accelerated destruction of their habitat, climate change, and a fungus that covers their skin until it asphyxiates them. The large expanse of unbroken forest of Mashpi is an ideal home for the amphibians of the Chocó, and a hope for their survival.