In his amphibians guide, Leenders calls the Splendid Leaf Frog "a Holy Grail," and after encountering one in the wild on Costa Rica's Caribbean slope one warm April night, I am inclined to agree. These frogs are rarely seen because they make their home in the canopy of undisturbed forest, only sojourning to the forest floor for purposes of reproduction; at these important times, they are known to glide from the treetops using the webbing between their fingers and toes as an air brake.
The most important word in the lines above is "undisturbed." These frogs cannot survive in heavily impacted habitats, which makes the discovery of this individual significant. The Sarapiquí region of northeastern CR is a hotspot for agriculture expansion; pineapple is pushing in, and the pesticides and runoff threaten the surrounding forests. But the presence of the Splendid Leaf Frog offers hope. I found this frog on private land owned by a Tico named Geovanny. If he wanted to, he could sell his plot of forest to Del Monte and retire young; instead, he's chosen to protect his land and all the pieces of the puzzle that exist there. I've followed water snakes along the riverbanks and taken tree boas out of student cabins here; glass frogs dance among the leaves at night.
One man protecting one patch of forest allows one leaf frog to lay fifty-four eggs. One individual can positively impact the planet. One of the most important things I learned in the jungle is the small things that we do spark evolution on a broader scale. But I also learned patience. The Splendid Leaf Frog did not learn to fly in just a day; it took a couple hundred million years or so to get it right. We've emerged as the top predator of our time; it is up to us what we will do with our power over nature. I hope, like Geovanny, that we can find our place, and live among the leaf frogs.