March 3, 2008

Threatened Frogs Discovered Breeding in New Zealand

Scientists in New Zealand have discovered a rare, endangered frog breeding in the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, near the capital of Wellington.

The tiny, finger-nail sized Maud Island frogs are typically found only on two islands in the Malborough Sounds region of New Zealand's South Island.  

"Maud Island frogs have never been found breeding" before, even on their home island, said Kerri Lukis, a researcher and masters candidate at Victoria University in Wellington, in an Associated Press report.

"It's wonderful timing for 2008 - International Year of the Frog and a Leap Year," she said.

Maud Island frogs are one of four frogs native to New Zealand. Having evolved little during the last 70-mllion years, they have distinctive features and behaviors, Lukis said.  For instance, they do not croak, live in water or have webbed feet.  And unlike other frogs, their eggs are laid under rocks or logs and the male sits over them until they hatch as fully formed, tailed froglets, without going through the tadpole stage.

Ben Bell, a biologist overseeing Ms. Lukis' research, said the breeding suggests Maud Island frogs can be bred in other predator-free habitats - strengthening their prospects for survival.  Mr. Bell believes the sanctuary's fence provides a predator-free breeding environment and strengthens the frogs' prospects for survival.

Associated Press reports that there are up to 40,000 Maud Island frogs, with most on the island from which they take their name and the rest on Motuara Island.

Don Newman, threatened species science manager with the Conservation Department, who was not involved in this study, said the breeding success adds a third location where the frogs have bred, improving the species' chance of survival.

In 2006, 60 Maud Island frogs were introduced into the frog enclosure at the 620 acre, security-fenced sanctuary, built for threatened native birds and other species to re-establish their numbers in safety, without the presence of predators such as rats, mice, stoats, ferrets and wild cats.

Currently, all four of New Zealand's surviving native frog species are threatened.  The Hamilton frog, the rarest of these, number less than 300.


Photo Caption: Adult Maud Island frog. Photo © Karori Sanctuary.


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Karori Wildlife Sanctuary