The frogs that may not have croaked
of scientists around the world have launched an unprecedented search in the hope
of rediscovering 100 species of "lost" amphibians – animals considered
potentially extinct but that may be holding on in a few remote places –
Conservation International and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group announced
This search, which is taking place in 14 countries on five continents, is the
first ever coordinated effort to find such a large number of "lost" creatures
and comes as global amphibian populations are suffering a shocking decline –
with more than 30 per cent of all species threatened with extinction.
Many of the amphibians that the teams of scientists are looking for have not
been seen in several decades, and establishing whether populations have survived
or not is vital for scientists looking to understand the recent amphibian
extinction crisis. Amphibians also provide many important services to humans
such as controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops and helping to
maintain healthy freshwater systems – the chemicals in amphibian skins have also
been important in helping to create new drugs with the potential to save lives,
including a painkiller 200 times more potent than morphine.
"Amphibians are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment, so they
are often an indicator of damage that is being done to ecosystems," explains
Conservation International's Dr Robin Moore, who has organized the search for
IUCN's Amphibian Specialist Group.
"But this role as the global 'canary in a coal-mine' means that the rapid and
profound change to the global environment that has taken place over the last
fifty years or so – in particular climate change and habitat loss – has had a
devastating impact on these incredible creatures. We've arranged this search for
'lost' species that we believe may have managed to hang on so that we can get
some definite answers - and hopefully learn about what has allowed some tiny
populations of certain species to survive when the rest of their species has
The problems amphibians face from habitat loss have been massively
exacerbated by a pathogenic fungus, which causes chytridiomycosis, a disease
that has wiped-out entire populations of amphibians and in some cases whole
Dr Moore and his team have drawn up a list of the "top 10" species of the 100
being searched for that he believes would be particularly exciting to find. He
said: "While it's very challenging to rate the importance of one species against
another we have created this top 10 list because we feel that these particular
animals have a particular scientific or aesthetic value."
The top 10:
toad, Incilius periglenes, Costa Rica. Last seen
1989. Perhaps the most famous of the lost Amphibians. Went from abundant to
extinct in a little over a year in the late 1980s.
brooding frog, Australia. 2 species – Rheobatrachus
vitellinus and R. silus, last seen 1985. (Had unique mode of
reproduction: females swallowed eggs and raised tadpoles in the stomach. Gave
birth to froglets through the mouth.)
Beaked Toad, Rhinella rostrata. Colombia. Last seen
1914. Fascinating frog with a distinctive pyramid-shaped head.
climbing salamander, Bolitoglossa jacksoni,
Guatemala. Last seen in 1975. Stunning black and yellow salamander – One of only
two known specimens is believed to have been stolen from a Californian
laboratory in the mid 1970s.
Painted Frog, Callixalus pictus. Democratic Republic of
Congo/Rwanda. Last seen 1950. Very little is known about this animal which is
never thought to have been photographed.
Pescado Stubfoot Toad, Atelopus balios, Ecuador.
Last seen in April 1995. May well have been wiped-out by chytridiomycosis.
salamander, Hynobius turkestanicus. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan
or Uzbekistan. Last seen 1909. Known from only two specimens collected in 1909
somewhere "between Pamir and Samarkand"
frog, Atelopus sorianoi, Venezuela. Last seen 1990.
Known from a single stream in an isolated cloud forest.
painted frog, Discoglossus nigriventer, Israel.
Last seen 1955. A single adult collected in 1955 represents the last confirmed
record of the species. Efforts to drain marshlands in Syria to eradicate malaria
may have been responsible for the disappearance of this species.
Stream Toad, Ansonia latidisca. Borneo (Indonesia and
Malaysia): Last seen 1950s. Increased sedimentation in streams after logging may
have contributed to the decline.
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Dr Claude Gascon, co-chair of the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group and
Executive Vice President of Conservation International said: "This is something
that has never been done before, and is hugely significant, not only because of
the threats that amphibians face and our need to understand what has been
happening to them better, but also because it represents an incredible
opportunity for the world's amphibian scientists to rediscover long-lost
"The search for these lost animals may well yield vital information in our
attempts to stop the amphibian extinction crisis, and information that helps
humanity to better understand the impact that we are having on the planet."
To follow the search for the lost amphibians visit: www.conservation.org/lostfrogs.
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