July 14, 2011

Colorful Toad Rediscovered In Borneo

Scientists searching the mountains of Borneo made a surprise discovery of a rainbow toad that had not been seen since 1924 by European explorers and had never been photographed until now, BBC News reports.

The explorers are overjoyed with the finding of the wildly-colored frog that had not been seen in 87 years. The Bornean rainbow toad, also known as the Sambas Stream toad (Ansonia latidisca), was rediscovered on Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sarawak by a local team of scientists inspired by a 2010 search for the world's missing amphibians by Conservation International (CI).

Prior to its expedition, CI released a list of the World's Top 10 Most Wanted Lost Frogs. The 10 were narrowed down form a total of 100 that are being hunted. The Bornean rainbow toad was listed as number 10 on the list.

Expedition leader Indraniel Das, a conservation professor at the Sarawak Malaysia University, said researchers found three of the slender-limbed toads living on trees during a night search last month in the remote mountain region. The colorful frog was previously thought to be extinct.

The team had spent months scouring the remote mountain forests for the species. Until the recent discovery, only illustrations of the toad had existed. The illustrations were made using toads collected during the 1924 expedition.

"Thrilling discoveries like this beautiful toad, and the critical importance of amphibians to healthy ecosystems, are what fuel us to keep searching for lost species," Das said in a statement on the university's website. "They remind us that nature still holds precious secrets that we are still uncovering."

Dr Robin Moore of Conservation International, who launched the Global Search for Lost Amphibians, was delighted by the discovery.

"When I saw an email with the subject 'Ansonia latidisca found' pop into my inbox I could barely believe my eyes. Attached was an image"”proof in the form of the first ever photograph of the colorful and gangly tree-dwelling toad. The species was transformed in my mind from a black and white illustration to a living, colorful creature," Moore said in a press release.

"To see the first pictures of a species that has been lost for almost 90 years defies belief. It is good to know that nature can surprise us when we are close to giving up hope, especially amidst our planet's escalating extinction crisis," he added.

The habitat in which the toad is found is not currently under protection and is threatened by resort development, poaching and fragmentation. The exact location of the rediscovery of the frog is being withheld given concerns it would become targeted for the pet trade, especially with its bright and unique coloring.

"Amphibians are at the forefront of this tragedy, so I hope that these unique species serve as flagships for conservation, inspiring pride and hope by Malaysians and people everywhere," said Moore.

Das, who last year discovered a pea-sized frog in Borneo, said the new rainbow toads found were in trees and measured up to two inches long. The three specimens found consisted of an adult male, adult female and a juvenile.

CI's Global Search for Lost Amphibians covered five continents and 21 countries. The official search only found four of the 100 lost amphibians on CI's list, a sign that many of the world's amphibians could be lost for good.

Currently the IUCN Red List estimates that 41 percent of the world's amphibians are threatened with extinction from habitat loss, pollution, agriculture, overexploitation and climate change. Yet their biggest threat appears to be a fungal disease called chytridiomycosis. A plague that has wiped out entire species of amphibians. Experts say that in the past 30 years it is likely that at least 120 amphibian species have gone extinct.

However, the rediscovery of the Bornean rainbow toad shows that there still is some hope for the world's amphibians.

Of course, rediscovering the Bornean rainbow toad is only the beginning. Now conservation measures are needed to protect it from vanishing again.


Image Caption: Not seen since 1924 and never photographed: an adult female Borneo Rainbow Toad, also referred to as Sambas Stream Toad (Ansonia latidisca). Photo © Dr. Indraneil Das.


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