Frank Glaw; (inset) Renaud Boistel and Vlad Brumfeld

ScienceShot: The Lazarus Frog

Sid Perkins
2013-06-04 11:00

A species of rare frog first described in 1940 and then declared a goner in 1996 has hopped back from the dead. The Hula painted frog (main image), which sports a black belly and a myriad of white dots, was the first amphibian to have been declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a U.N.-affiliated organization that maintains a list of the world's endangered, threatened, and extinct species. The only confirmed reports of the creature come from the Hula Valley in northern Israel, whose wetlands were largely drained in the 1950s—and where the frog was last seen in 1955, despite numerous surveys since then. But in October 2011, a ranger in the Hula Nature Reserve spotted an adult male. Since that time, researchers have caught sight of at least 10 others, including three dead or dying frogs they collected that had fallen victim to predatory birds, the researchers report online today in Nature Communications. Detailed analyses of those specimens, including high-resolution CT scans of the skulls (one seen in inset) and other bones, reveal that the Hula painted frog isn't just a Lazarus species—it's also a living fossil. The first scientists to describe the frog had mistakenly placed it in the Discoglossus genus, which is alive and well and found largely in the western Mediterranean region, the new study suggests. But almost 3 dozen features of the recently collected skeletons and skulls suggest that the Hula painted frog belongs to the Latonia genus, which was previously known from only fossils.

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