Crypto organization names newfound glass frog species — here’s why that's concerning

Lime-green Hyalinobatrachium nouns was named for the Nouns decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), a group that uses cryptocurrency to buy and sell non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Lime-green Hyalinobatrachium nouns was named for the Nouns decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), a group that uses cryptocurrency to buy and sell non-fungible tokens (NFTs). (Image credit: Courtesy of Courtesy of Jaime Culebras)

A pair of newfound species of glass frog — amphibians with transparent underbellies that put all their internal organs on display — have been discovered in Ecuador. But the naming of one of the species has triggered controversy. 

One of the new species has been, Hyalinobatrachium nouns, is lime-green on top and clear as window glass underneath; it's named after the Nouns decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), a group that buys and sells non-fungible tokens (NFTs) with cryptocurrency. The Nouns DAO won the right to name the frog species after donating (in traditional cash) to the environmental nonprofit Rainforest Trust. But because cryptocurrency is carbon-intensive, some conservationists are unhappy with the association.

"When charities get involved in crypto projects, they legitimize them — they legitimize a whole ecosystem that has a very high environmental impact," Peter Howson, a researcher from Northumbria University in the United Kingdom who studies environmental technologies, told Popular Science.

The little frogs at the center of the controversy were discovered in 2019. They're boggle-eyed and almost cartoonishly cute, with an eye-catching pattern on their backs of lime green with light yellow spots. The two new species look nearly identical and are very similar in appearance to other Hyalinobatrachium glass frogs. In fact, researchers led by Juan Manuel Guayasamin, a biologist at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador, had to use genetic sequencing to discover that the frogs were unique species. 

H. nouns and the other newly described frog, now known as H. mashpi, live in the Ecuadorian Andes. They were quite genetically distinct despite being found only 11.7 miles (18.9 kilometers) apart, the researchers reported March 18 in the journal PeerJ. The species were separated by the Intag-Guayllabamba river valley. Numerous river valleys cut through the Ecuadorian Andes, the researchers wrote, which have led to a great deal of amphibian diversity in the region as populations get cut off from one another and diverge into different evolutionary paths. Of the 1,120 amphibian species reported in the Andes, about 70% are endemic, or found nowhere else on Earth, the researchers wrote. 

Glass frogs are known for their doting parenting style, which is unusual for amphibians. Females will stay on their eggs as the males fertilize them, protecting the brood. In some species, the fathers then take over, staying with the eggs as they develop, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

The Noun DAO is a group of people who pool together their crypto assets, voting on what to spend them on. Noun NFTs are mostly bought with the cryptocurrency Ethereum. One of the members of the Noun DAO is also on the board of the Rainforest Trust, Popular Science reported.

The controversy arises from the fact that cryptocurrencies get their value through a process called "proof of work," in which computers compete against one another to solve mathematical puzzles. This is extremely carbon-intensive, as it involves large amounts of computing power. James Deutsch, the CEO of Rainforest Trust, said the organization's leadership did not want to be seen as promoting cryptocurrencies and is worried about cryptocurrencies' impacts. 

"I am impressed that this group of very energetic, creative and wealthy people have taken the NFT art concept and used it specifically for charitable purposes," Deutsch told Popular Science. "But having said all that, it still wouldn't justify buying into something that was inherently destructive."

Originally published on Live Science

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.