Feb 17

A five-month project taking over 100 scientists to 21 countries to search for 100 amphibians has ended with few successes. Researchers found only 4 of their target species, although 11 others were unexpectedly rediscovered. 

The ‘Search for the Lost Frogs’ campaign was launched in August by Conservation International and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group, with support from Global Wildlife Conservation. Its aim was to establish whether rare amphibians have survived increasing pressures, such as habitat loss, climate change and disease, and to help scientists better understand what is behind the amphibian crisis.

Photo of ventriloqual frog on leaf

Ventriloqual frog

Most threatened group of vertebrates 

Amphibians are the most threatened group of vertebrates, with over 30% of amphibian species threatened with extinction, primarily due to habitat loss and a fungus that causes chytridomycosis.

“Searching for lost species is among the most important conservation activities we can do as scientists. If we’re going to save them, we first have to find them,” said Dr. Don Church, President of Global Wildlife Conservation.

However, five months of expeditions have led to disappointing findings that conservationists say should sound an urgent wake-up call and prompt coordinated efforts to prevent further declines.

Photo of male golden toad

Male golden toad

Glimmers of hope 

One major disappointment was the failure to find the golden toad of Costa Rica, which was the #1 species on their ‘top 10’ list. However, the Critically Endangered Rio Pescado stubfoot toad was one exciting rediscovery. Found only in Ecuador, it was only recorded at one site, suggesting that this represents the last population of this species. 

The cave splayfoot salamander – last seen in 1941 – the Mount Nimba reed frog –  last seen in 1967  – and the Omaniundu Reed Frog – last seen in 1979, where the other 3 major rediscoveries. 

Researchers describe these species as “glimmers of hope” in a group of animals severely threatened by changing land use, disease, pollution and climate change.

Photo of Rio Pescado stubfoot toad sitting on a leaf

Rio Pescado stubfoot toad

In Haiti, searches in the country’s diminishing forests yielded six surprising rediscoveries of species that were not on the scientists’ initial list, but that had not been seen in two decades – including the ventriloqual frog and Mozart’s frog.

Photo of Mozart's frog

Mozart's frog

No species were rediscovered in Colombia, but three species potentially brand new to science were documented. These included a possible new type of beaked toad, now known as the ‘Simpsons toad’ due to its startling resemblance to the villainous character Mr. Burns from the television series. 

Photo of Rhinella sp. nov. held by researcher

An unknown species of beaked toad

Other rediscoveries were made in India, where scientists launched their own campaign to focus on rediscovering local amphibian species. The effort resulted in five ‘missing’ amphibians being rediscovered, including one that was last seen in 1874 and another which was found by pure chance in a rubbish bin. 

Forefront of an extinction wave 

While the ‘Search for the Lost Frogs’ has come to an end, the Indian project is set to continue, as is a parallel mission in Colombia. 

Dr. Moore added, “Rediscoveries provide reason for hope for these species, but the flip side of the coin is that the vast majority of species that teams were looking for were not found. This is a reminder that we are in the midst of what is being called the Sixth Great Extinction with species disappearing at 100 to 1000 times the historic rate – and amphibians are really at the forefront of this extinction wave.”

View images and films of amphibians on ARKive. 

Read the Conservation International press release.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author