Quasipaa exilispinosa is a medium to large-sized frog, slightly toad-like in appearance, with a snout-vent length up to 10 cm, but males usually average 7 – 8 cm and females average 5.7 cm (Chan et al. 2005). It has a depressed body (Karsen et al. 1998, Liu and Hu 1975); numerous wrinkles and a distinct supratympanic fold extending from behind the eyes to the shoulder, concealing part of the tympanum (Karsen et al. 1998). Males have spines on the chest and fingers during the breeding season. Its toes are partially webbed while the fingers are not webbed (Chan et al. 2005).
Tadpoles are about 40 mm in length. Young froglets are fairly large and globular, about 20 mm in snout-vent length (Liu and Hu 1975, Karsen et al. 1998, Chan et al. 2005).
As of 2021, the genus Quasipaa contains 12 species. Two species are found in Vietnam: Q. acanthophora (Dubois and Ohler 2009) from Lang Son, Bac Giang, and Quang Ninh Provinces; and Q. delacouri (Angel 1928) also from Lang Son and Bac Giang Provinces. One species, Q. fasciculispina (Inger 1970), is found in southeastern Thailand and southwestern Cambodia. The remaining nine species are distributed in, but not all restricted to, China: Q. boulengeri (Gunther 1889) from the China-Vietnam border area northward to southern Shaanxi and Gansu Provinces, and east to western Jiangxi and southern Hunan Provinces; Q. courtoisi (Angel 1922) from Che-Ki, Anhui Province; Q. exilispinosa (Liu and Hu 1998) found in Fujian, western and northern Guangxi, southern Hunan, and Guangdong Provinces (including Hong Kong); Q. spinosa (David 1875) from eastern Guizhou, Yunnan, Anhui, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Fujian, Guangxi, and Guangdong Provinces (including Hong Kong), to northern and central Vietnam; Q. jiulongensis (Huang and Liu 1985) from southwestern Zhejiang and Fujian Provinces; Q. robertingeri (Wu and Zhao 1995) from southeastern Sichuan Province; Q. shini (Ahl 1930) from Guangxi, Guangzhou, Hunan, and Guizhou Provinces; Q. verrucospinosa (Bourret 1937) from southern Yunnan Province, China to Vietnam and Laos; Q. yei (Chen, Qu, and Jiang 2002) from Anhui, Hubei, and Henan Provinces.
Quasipaa exilispinosa can be distinguished from congeners by a number of morphological traits. Firstly, Q. exilispinosa (male snout-vent length: 7 – 8 cm, female snout-vent length: average 5.7 cm) is about half the size of its closest relative, Q. spinosa (snout-vent length of 10 – 14 cm) (Fei 1999). Unlike other members of the Quasipaa genus that have fully webbed hind digits, Q. exilispinosa the fourth digits the feet are only partially webbed (Fei 1999, Fei 2012). Quasipaa exilispinosa has a partially concealed eardrum while other species, such as Q. spinosa, have fully concealed eardrums (Chan et al. 2005).
The color of a live specimen’s dorsal surface can range from light to dark brown, with visible yellow buff mottling scattered throughout. The lips are barred with dark brown bands. Dark brown horizontal banding can also be found between the eyes. Distinct horizontal dark brown bars are found on the dorsal surface of both front and hind limbs, digits, thighs, and tibia. Similar, but less apparent, horizontal bars can also be found on the tarsus and lips. Digit tips range from bright yellow to transparent white. The ventral surface is an ashy yellow that diffuses into light brown along the ventrolateral glands. Males, during breeding seasons, will further develop dark spines on the chest and fingers. The ventral surfaces of the thighs are transparent pink while the underside of its crus is yellow with brown dusting. The upper chest is light pink, which becomes darkish brown with scattered light-yellow flecks similar to that of the dorsal surface. Its iris is uniformly copper red with fine black reticulations throughout, and a distinct dark cross-shaped marking with a black pupil at its center (Liu and Hu 1975, Karsen et al. 1998, Chan et al. 2005, Fei 2009 and 2012).
A preserved specimen has a greyish-brown dorsal surface and creamy-white chest and belly. Greyish bands are still distinguishable on the limbs. The underside of all limbs is pale grey.
Tadpoles are brownish yellow in color with black bands on the tail and black spots at the base of the tail; there is no apparent ventral coloration (Liu and Hu 1975, Karsen et al. 1998, Chan et al. 2005).
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: China, Hong Kong
Quasipaa exilispinosa are mostly found along the southern and southeastern coasts of China. They have been recorded from southern counties of Hunan Province (Mangshan Mountain in Yizhang and Guidong Counties), eastern and northern Jiangxi Province (Guixi, Xunwu, and Pingbian Counties), Fujian Province (Mount Wuyi in Jianyang, Nanjing, Dehua and Zhao'an Counties), northern and western Guangxi Province (Longsheng County and Cenwanglao Mountain), northeastern to central Guangdong Province (Ruyuan and Longmen County, Nanling Mountain in Dading County), western to central Zhejiang (Longwang Mountain, Jiulong Mountain and Tonglu, Quzhou and Jingning Counties); northern Anhui Province (Xiuning County). The species is widely distributed in Hong Kong, being one of the most common hill stream frogs. They occur at all altitudes, in and near hill streams, though they occur most frequently at 500 – 1400 m elevation (Fei 2012).
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
This species is nocturnal and is often seen perched on rocks, in crevices, beside swift-flowing waters or ledges, beneath small waterfalls and quiet pools. During the day, they hide under rocks and leaf litter (Karsen et al. 1998, Chan et al. 2005).
Quasipaa exilispinosa feeds on small frogs and arthropods, such as insects and freshwater crabs (Karsen et al. 1998, Chan et al. 2005, Fei 2012).
It breeds in the wet season (May to September in Hong Kong). During this period, males become territorial (Programmes n.d.), develop black spines on their chest and fingers, and make loud and continuous mating calls at night that sound like “duk...duk...duk…” (To hear the call, click the call link above by Ho Yuen Yeung) (Liu and Hu 1975, Karsen et al. 1998, Chan et al. 2005).
Females lay 54 – 107 eggs (Fei 2012). The eggs are large (~3 mm in diameter), creamy white and grey, and are laid singly (i.e., not in strands). The eggs can be seen lying at the bottom of shallow pools, attached to rocks. Groups of 5 – 10 eggs are wrapped in transparent capsules, 10 mm in diameter (Liu and Hu 1975, Karsen et al. 1998, Chan et al. 2005).
This species has an extended larval phase and tadpoles may overwinter (Liu and Hu 1975, Karsen et al. 1998, Chan et al. 2005).
Predators include snakes, turtles, and bigger frogs that inhabit similar habitats and are widely distributed within the region, such as the diamondback water snake (Trimerodytes aequifasciata), mountain water snake (Trimerodytes percarinatus percarinatus) and possibly the introduced red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) (Karsen et al. 1998).
Trends and Threats
Quasipaa exilispinosa is susceptible to habitat loss and destruction, and water pollution.
Relation to Humans
Some species within the Quasipaa genus are known to be consumed as food or harvested for medicinal properties, but specific information for Q. exilispinosa is unclear (Chan et al. 2013).
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities
Climate change, increased UVB or increased sensitivity to it, etc.
A complete mitochondrial genome analysis conducted by Wu et al. (2020) using Bayesian phylogenetic inference. The study supported Q. exilispinosa’s inclusion within the genus Quasipaa, as well as a close relationship with a morphologically similar relative Q. spinosa.
Phylogenetic analysis with mitochondrial and nuclear DNA revealed two subclades within the Quasipaa genus, the first clade, which Q. exilispinosa is a member of, contains species that occur at low elevations, throughout China southward from Sichuan Province in the west to Henan Province in the east, extending into south-central Vietnam and southern Laos (Jing et al. 2009). The second clade includes species with distributions ranging from southern Yunnan Province southward into northern Laos and northern Vietnam. In accordance with the phylogenetic study of Wu et al. (2020), Q. exilispinosa and Q. spinosa are sister species, and this clade is the sister group of Q. jiulongensis.
Quasipaa was first proposed as a subgenus of Paa, which is now considered to belong to the dicroglossid genus Nanorana. Quasipaa was subsequently raised to the level of genus, and molecular phylogenetic analyses have corroborated its monophyly (Dubois 1992). Many individual species of Quasipaa were originally described in the genus Rana. Even after splitting the genus Rana into smaller genera, frogs in Quasipaa were previously classified as members of the true frog family Ranidae, and within the subfamily Dicroglossinae, that is until Dicroglossinae was raised to the family level, (Dicroglossidae), where they remain (Frost 2013).
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Originally submitted by: Desmond Tan, Amy Fok, Ivan Lam, Jonathan J. Fong (2021-08-05)
Edited by: Ann T. Chang (2021-10-12)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2021 Quasipaa exilispinosa: Lesser Spiny Frog <https://amphibiaweb.org/species/4864> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Mar 26, 2023.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2023. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 26 Mar 2023.
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