After the post about the carnivorous plant named after David Attenborough, an alert reader asked if I’d ever had a species named after me. The answer is yes: the Ecuadorian poison arrow frog Atelopus coynei.
The hundred-odd species of the frog genus Atelopus, found in Central and South America, are called “harlequin” frogs because of their bright, parti-colored pattern, and were often used as a source of poison for the arrows of locals. They’re in the family Bufonidae, so they’re really toads.
I was actually the collector of Atelopus coynei — I grabbed the holotype in a swamp on a frogging trip to western Ecuador in the late 1970s. I was there to see the tropics and help out my best friend Ken Miyata, a fellow grad student at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.
Ken was a polymath (do read the link): a superb natural historian and biologist, a great writer (he wrote, along with Adrian Forsyth, the volume Tropical Nature that, as Greg Mayer noted, contains my botfly story — and many engrossing tales about the tropics), a fantastic photographer, and a world-class fly fisherman. He was a wonderful friend, always full of new ideas about biology and schemes about how to find a girlfriend and how to fish while getting a Ph.D. at the same time. He had a penchant for greasy food (he taught me to make the quintessential grad-student dinner: roast chicken with rice, the latter mixed with chicken grease and mayonnaise) and was fascinated by the bizarre and outlandish aspects of life.
Ken died in a fishing accident in 1983, the victim of a fast current on Idaho’s Snake River. His life had just taken a dramatic turn for the better: he found a wonderful woman and secured his dream job with a conservation organization. To celebrate, he went out West for one more fishing trip before he started his new life in Washington, D.C. They found his body three days after he went missing, enshrouded in the fishing line that had coiled around him.
During our years at Harvard, I occasionally loaned Ken some dosh to tide him over the lean times, and he promised in return that one day he’d name a species of frog after me. And so it came to pass: my beautiful frog (chocolate brown with bright green splotches) was named Atelopus coynei in 1980*. Like me, the frog (and many species in the genus Atelopus) is on the verge of extinction.
Fig. 1. One of Ken’s many frog photos
Fig. 2. Tropical Nature, by A. Forsyth and K. Miyata. Still in print, and still one of the best introductions to tropical biology
*Miyata, K. 1980. A new species of Atelopus (Anura: Bufonidae) from the cloud forests of northwestern Ecuador. Breviora. 458:1–11.