November 17, 2010

Search For Extinct Amphibians Reveals 3 New Frog Species

Scientists searching for frogs thought to be extinct have instead discovered three new species in Colombia, including two toads and a poisonous rocket frog.

All three of the new species are tiny, and are primarily active in daytime "“ a highly uncharacteristic trait for amphibians.

Although the conservation scientists failed to re-discover the intended target of the Colombian search, the Mesopotamia beaked toad, they were overjoyed to discover the three new species.

"After spending several days searching for the Mesopotamia beaked toad with no success, the team's spirits were pretty low," said Dr. Robin Moore from Conservation International, who organized the "ËœSearch for Lost Frogs' amphibian rediscovery project.
"But finding these new species, including a new beaked toad, was like a shot of adrenaline. We definitely left on a high."

The tiny (1-2 inch) red-eyed toad, discovered at an altitude of about 6,000 feet, particularly fascinated the scientists.

"I have never seen a toad with such vibrant red eyes," said Dr. Moore.

"This trait is highly unusual for amphibians, and its discovery offers us a terrific opportunity to learn more about how and why it adapted this way."

At less than 1 inch long, the other new toad is also tiny, with a beak-shaped head that Dr. Moore likened to the snout of Montgomery Burns of The Simpsons TV series.

"The toad's imperious profile and squinty eyes indeed look like Monty Burns," said George Meyer, writer and producer of The Simpsons and an amphibian aficionado.

The species had likely remained unidentified until now because it skips the tadpole stage.  Instead, the tiny frogs produce toadlets that resemble the fallen leaves of the forest floor upon which they live.

The rocket frog is the third new species discovered. While a member of the poison dart family, it is not as poisonous as most of its cousins.

The amphibian search was organized by Conservation International (CI), the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG), Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) and Fundaci³n ProAves, and is the first coordinated effort to search for species believed to be extinct.

The expedition began in August, and includes searches in 19 nations in search of 100 lost species.

To date, three of the species feared extinct have been found, including a Mexican salamander not seen since 1941, a frog from the Ivory Coast last seen in 1967, and another frog from the Democratic Republic of Congo not observed since 1979.

Despite the exciting discoveries and rediscoveries, the conservationists stress that the global outlook for amphibians is still grim.   Indeed, the remaining species targeted by the expedition have remained undiscovered, suggesting that they are likely extinct.

The latest Red List of Threatened Species, released last month during the United Nations' biodiversity summit, put 41% of amphibians on the danger list.  Most of these species face continued and growing threats.

"Finding three new species in such a short space of time speaks to the incredibly rich biodiversity of these relatively unexplored forests and highlights their importance for conservation," said Dr. Moore.

"Protecting these habitats into the future will be essential to ensure the survival of both the amphibians and the benefits that they bring to ecosystems and people."


Image 1: New species of beaked toad, genus Rhinella, found in the rainforests of Choc³ department of Colombia, during the "Search for Lost Frogs". This individual, around 2cm in length, is thought to skip the tadpole stage, hatching directly into toadlets from eggs laid on the forest floor. The coloration and shape of the head make the toad resemble the dead leaves on which it lives. © Robin Moore/iLCP

Image 2: New toad species with striking red eyes found during the "Search for Lost Frogs" in the cloudforests of Choc³, Colombia. This highly unusual species has scientists baffled - we know nothing about this species other than where it lives. © Robin Moore/iLCP

Image 3: New species of rocket frog, from the genus Silverstoneia, found during the "Search for Lost Frogs" in the rainforests of the Choc³ department in Colombia. A type of poison dart frog - a group that has given rise to many chemicals found to be useful to humans - this species is less poisonous than its brightly colored relatives. Living in and around streams, the rocket frogs carefully carry newly hatched tadpoles on their backs to deposit them in water to complete their development. This is a small species, which probably does not grow larger than 3cm in total length. © Robin Moore/iLCP


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