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Glass Frogs

David Cannatella
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Hyalinobatrachium fleischmanniHyalinobatrachium fleischmanni eggsHyalinobatrachium oyampiensis
from Ruiz-Carranza and Lynch (1981)
Containing group: Neobatrachia


Glass frogs derive their name from the observation in that several the skin is almost transparent, and once can see the internal organs, and even observe the heart beating in some species. The Glass Frogs are a large group of rather similar species. They are mostly arboreal, living high in trees overhanging mountain streams in Mexico, Central, and South America. With the exception of Centrolene gekkoideum most species are small, about 20-30 mm long. Until the recent work of Ruiz-Carranza and Lynch (1991), all of the small species were called Centrolenella; that name is no longer used.

The call of Glass Frogs is a high peep or whistle. In some species, a single individual seems to initiate a chorus, in which a wave of calls seems to travel along the stream. Centrolenids lay their clutches of eggs on vegetation, usually several meters above a stream (one high montane species, Centrolene buckleyi, uses bromeliads to hide their eggs). When the eggs hatch, the tadpoles fall into the water; or, if they miss the water, they use their muscular tails to flip themselves into the water. The tadpoles generally burrow into the stream substrate. In some species the males position themselves over the egg mass, apparently guarding it from predators, including "frog flies" which lay their eggs in the frog's egg mass. The developing fly larvae are known to parasitize and destroy clutches of eggs (Villa and Townsend, 1983).

Because they inhabit high montane streams, glass frogs are not collected casually; of the 64 species listed in Frost (1985), only 23 were described before 1960, and many more have been described since 1985. The exploration of new streams along the Andes of South American almost certainly yields new species.

Geographic Distribution

The distribution of living members of the family Centrolenidae is indicated in red.
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distribution of living members of the family Centrolenidae

Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships

Centrolenidae was defined by Ford and Cannatella (1993) as a node-based name for the common ancestor of Cochranella, Hyalinobrachium, and Centrolene (taxa included in Ruiz-C. and Lynch [1991]) and all its descendants. The oft-cited synapomorphy for Centrolenidae is the fusion of the astragalus and calcaneum (Duellman and Trueb, 1986; Lynch, 1973); this feature is convergent with that in Pelodytes. Ruiz-Carranza and Lynch (1991) listed this synapomorphy and additionally, a dilated medial process on the third metacarpal, T-shaped terminal phalanges, and eggs deposited out of water. The last two of these are present in other groups, and require corroboration by a better-resolved phylogeny of Neobatrachia. Examination of skeletons of more than 40 species by Cannatella suggests that the presence of a process on the third metacarpal is a well-corroborated synapomorphy.

Other Names for Centrolenidae


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Title Illustrations
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1. Hyalinobatrachium fleischmanni, Costa Rica; photo © 1995 David Cannatella
2. Hyalinobatrachium fleischmanni eggs; photo © 1995 David Cannatella
3. Hyalinobatrachium oyampiensis; photo © 1995 David Cannatella

Hyalinobatrachium fleischmanni
Copyright © 1995 David Cannatella
Hyalinobatrachium fleischmanni eggs
Copyright © 1995 David Cannatella
Hyalinobatrachium oyampiensis
Copyright © 1995 David Cannatella
About This Page

David Cannatella
University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to David Cannatella at

Page: Tree of Life Centrolenidae. Glass Frogs. Authored by David Cannatella. The TEXT of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License - Version 3.0. Note that images and other media featured on this page are each governed by their own license, and they may or may not be available for reuse. Click on an image or a media link to access the media data window, which provides the relevant licensing information. For the general terms and conditions of ToL material reuse and redistribution, please see the Tree of Life Copyright Policies.

Citing this page:

Cannatella, David. 1995. Centrolenidae. Glass Frogs. Version 01 January 1995 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Centrolenidae/16952/1995.01.01 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

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