An Armored Catfish, a Cowboy Frog, and a Rainbow of Colorful Critters discovered in southwest Suriname


Three-week survey of Southwest Suriname reveals 1300 exceptional species, including 46 that are new to science, in an area with rich biological and cultural history and potential for ecotourism development

Arlington, Virginia, U.S./Paramaribo, Suriname — A scientific expedition into one of the world’s last pristine tropical forests has revealed incredibly diverse species and extraordinary cultural heritage, said Conservation International (CI) today, announcing the results of a scientific survey in southwest Suriname that documented nearly 1,300 species, including 46 species which may be new to science. The announcement comes as the global organization marks 25 years of science-based conservation, this month.

The three-week survey, an initiative of CI’s long-standing Rapid Assessment Program (RAP), explored three remote sites along the Kutari and Sipaliwini Rivers near the village of Kwamalasumutu from August to September 2010, in an effort to document the region's poorly known biodiversity and help develop sustainable ecotourism opportunities for the local indigenous people. The research was conducted by a collaborative team of 53 scientists, indigenous Trio people, and students, who documented the diversity and status of plants, fishes, reptiles and amphibians, birds, small mammals, large mammals, ants, katydids, dragonflies and damselflies, aquatic beetles, and dung beetles.

CI scientist and Rapid Assessment Program Director Dr. Trond Larsen said, "Our team was privileged to explore one of the last remaining areas of vast, unroaded wilderness in the world. As a scientist, it is thrilling to study these remote forests where countless new discoveries await, especially since we believe that protecting these landscapes while they remain pristine provides perhaps the greatest opportunity for maintaining globally important biodiversity and the ecosystems people depend upon for generations to come."

The findings of the expedition were recently published in the RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment series, titled "A Rapid Biological Assessment of the Kwamalasamatu region, Southwestern Suriname". Among the many highlights,scientists report new species that include a large tree-frog, eight freshwater fish, and dozens of new insects such as aquatic beetles, dung beetles, damselflies, and katydids.


“Cowboy Frog”Hypsiboas sp. has white fringes along the legs, and a spur on the "heel." It was discovered low on a small branch during a night ​survey in a swampy area of the Koetari River. The main distinguishing characteristic of this frog is the lack of a certain characteristic. It looks quite similar to “the Convict Treefrog” Hypsiboas calcaratus but lacks the black and white lateral stripes of H. calcaratus.

“Armored Catfish”Pseudacanthicus sp. is a catfish whose armor (external bony plates) is covered with spines to defend itself from giant piranhas which inhabit the same waters. Interestingly, one of the local guides on the expedition was about to eat this specimen as a snack, until scientists noticed its unique characteristics and preserved it as a specimen. Only a handful of Pseudacanthicus specimens are known from Suriname, and this is the first from the Sipaliwini.

“Crayola Katydid”Vestria sp. known as Crayola katydids because of their striking coloration. They are the only katydids known to employ chemical defenses, which are effective at repelling bird and mammalian predators.

A flagship initiative of Conservation International since 1990, “RAP” surveys provide a quick assessment of the unique biodiversity of an area to inform conservation and sustainable development, often identifying species in remote underexplored regions. While the discovery of new species is an exciting outcome of these surveys, the RAP scientists also observed a variety of other fascinating species, many of which are found only in Suriname or represent entirely new records for the region. A few of the amazing species found were:


“Pac-Man Frog”Ceratophrys cornuta is a voracious sit-and-wait predator with an exceptionally wide mouth that allows it to swallow prey that is nearly as large as its own body, including birds, mice and other frogs. One researcher using a radio collar to track birds found her study animal (and collar) in the belly of this frog!

“Great Horned Beetle”Coprophanaeus lancifer is a massive dung beetle the size of a tangerine, weighing over 6 grams. It is metallic blue and purple. This species is highly unusual in that both males and females possess long horns on the head, which are used as weapons against each other during battle.

“Spectacular Conehead Katydid”Loboscelis bacatus was previously only known from Amazonian Peru. The katydid has fluorescent green and pink coloring. The sighting in southern Suriname significantly extends its known range. It is predator of insects and snails, and feeds on seeds and fruits.

“The area was paradise for the entomologists among us, with spectacular and unique insects everywhere. I didn’t even have to look for ants because they jumped out at me,” said Dr. Leeanne Alonso, a former CI RAP Director who is now with Global Wildlife Conservation. “Other scientists were equally impressed with the amazing diversity of birds and mammals of the region. You can really get up close to wildlife here - a camera trap recorded a jaguar about one hundred yards from our camp.”


During the survey, scientists also observed extensive cave petroglyphs near the village of Kwamalasamutu, in a site known as Werehpai, which CI-Suriname is working with local communities to preserve and promote for ecotourism. Discovered as recently as 2000, the Werehpai site is the oldest known human settlement located in southern Suriname. Recent investigations and radiocarbon dates at the site indicate that the first sign of inhabitation was five-thousand years ago; they offer the most concentrated set of petroglyphs ever recorded in the Amazonian basin.

CI-Suriname Executive Director Annette Tjon Sie Fat, whose team commissioned the survey and will incorporate the research into conservation planning said, “The Kwamalasamutu area’s pristine nature and cultural heritage make it a unique destination for more adventurous tourists, who enjoy trekking through the dense rainforest to discover flora and fauna. CI-Suriname and the Trio are hoping to further develop a niche market ecotourism site here, while the recommendations from the RAP will help the community to manage and maintain the 18,000 ha sanctuary they created around the region’s incredible Werehpai petroglyph caves.”

The 2010 RAP survey was coordinated by CI’s RAP in partnership with CI-Suriname, Amazon Conservation Team, Anton De Kom University of Suriname, Suriname Forestry Service, Panthera, The Nature Conservation Division, and was made possible by a generous grant from the Alcoa Foundation.

The RAP team and CI President Russ Mittermeier will be heading back to Southern Suriname in March to continue the exploration of this pristine and globally important region.


Available content for media (***Please Provide Image Credits***)

Video and b-roll are available for download here: inside folder “Suriname RAP”)

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Experts available for interview:

Leeanne E. Alonso
entomologist & former CI RAP Director and now Director of Global Biodiversity Exploration for Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC)

Brian J. O’Shea
ornithologist; North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Trond H. Larsen
entomologist; Director, Rapid Assessment Program

Piotr Naskrecki
entomologist; Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

Paul E. Ouboter
herpetologist; National Zoological Collection of Suriname, publishing a guidebook on Suriname's amphibian species.
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Note to editors:

Conservation International (CI) — Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the long term well-being of people. Founded in 1987 and marking its 25th anniversary in 2012, CI has headquarters in the Washington, DC area, and nearly 900 employees working in more than 30 countries on four continents, plus 1,000+ partners around the world. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter: @ConservationOrg or Facebook: