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BACK FROM EXTINCTION: Extinct for 60 years, Hula Painted Frog rediscovered

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The hula painted frog of Israel had originally been thought to have been extinct - until one was found poking out of a patch of swampy undergrowth. Naturalists have expressed their chagrin and have no reclassified the amphibian as a "living fossil."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - The frog had dropped off the radar for nearly 60 years until one was discovered in 2011. Tests have revealed that the frog belongs to a group of amphibians that died out 15,000 years ago.

"We felt like we had a great finding when we first rediscovered it - this (frog) was like an idol in Israel," Professor Sarig Gafny, from the Ruppin Academic Center, in Israel, told BBC News. "But then we found it was a living fossil: this was amazing."

The hula painted frog had long been described as an elusive creature. Despite its distinctive black-and-white-spotted belly, only three adults had ever been seen.

The frog's natural habitat, Israel's Hula valley was drained in the 1950s. Scientists thought the species had been lost forever.

A frog was spotted by a park ranger two years ago, and since then another 13 have been discovered.

"We've only found the specimens so far out of the water on land," Prof Gafny explained.

"You have to crawl in the dense vegetation, there are blackberries there, which are spiny, and then you have to dig in the decaying detritus... It's not very attractive to go and look for it."

Discoveries have allowed the scientists to study the species in detail.

The hula frog had since been classified as a member of the Discoglossus group of amphibians, but genetic tests and CT scans have revealed that it in fact belongs to the Latonia group. Once widespread throughout Europe for millions of years, but all apart from the Hula painted frog died out about 15,000 years ago.

"Nobody ever had a chance to see a Latonia because it went extinct in Europe. The only way anyone could see it was through looking at fossils," Gafny says.

"But then with every characteristic that you look at in the current Hula painted frogs, it matches that of the fossils of Latonia and not that of the Discoglossus... So this is a living fossil."

The researchers said the frog was "a strikingly resilient" species - but added that it was now vital to ensure its future survival. They hope to re-flood parts of the Hula valley in order to provide it with a habitat where it could thrive.

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