A species of frog that was recently rediscovered after being declared extinct has been reclassified as a living fossil….
Israel’s Hula painted frog had not been seen for nearly 60 years, but one was found lurking in a patch of swampy undergrowth. The frog, once
classified as extinct, has survived significant habitat destruction, and new analysis has revealed it is actually a living fossil more closely related
to extinct animals of the Oligocene-Pleistocene eras than to the modern genus in which it had been placed.
Tests have revealed that the frog belonged to a group of amphibians that died out over 15,000 years ago. The study is published in the journal, Nature
Communications. According to the article published today in Nature Communications, Israel’s Hula painted frog was declared extinct in 1996, after
not having been observed in the wild since 1955, despite a number of attempts. But recent observations have found the species alive and well — since
2011, 11 specimens of the frog, both alive and dead have been found in its native Hula valley, including one adult female and four juveniles.
What’s more, the rediscovered frog is getting a new spot on the family tree. When it was first described in the early 40s, the frog was given the
name Discoglossus nigriventer. But new molecular analysis of tissue samples from six of the specimens found since 2011 place the Hula painted frog in
a sister group outside the genus Discoglossus.
Further analysis of the frog’s skeleton using scans of four individuals (one from 1955 and the other three from 2011) revealed certain
characteristics not otherwise found in the Discoglossus genus and, in fact, exclusive to the genusLatonia.,
The Hula painted frog differs from other members of Discoglossus in ways even discernible to the naked eye. Among other distinctive characteristics,
for example, all other frogs in the Discoglossus genus have a white abdomen, but the Hula painted frog has a black abdomen dotted with white warts.
The researchers argue that the Hula painted frog must be reclassified as Latonia nigriventer to reflect its status as the only surviving species in
the Latonia genus. Further, the study’s author’s call for more aggressive conservation of the living fossil’s only known habitat, a single pond
in the Hula Nature Reserve in Israel. Much of the reserve has been drained and its swamp habitat destroyed since the frog was first described more
than 60 years ago.
Although the Hula painted frog has shown impressive survival skills, outliving not only its nearest relatives, but also severe habitat destruction,
the article’s authors believe re-flooding and restoring the reserve’s swampy environs may be the only way to ensure the amphibian doesn't become
extinct — again, this time for real.