'Extinct' Hula Frog Rediscovered In Israel Declared A Living Fossil

By iScienceTimes Staff on June 4, 2013 4:57 PM EDT

hula frog
The Hula painted frog was discovered in Israel in 2011. Only three had been spotted since the 1950s, and the Hula frog was declared extinct in 1996. (Photo: Reuters)

The Hula painted frog, a species not seen for six decades and declared extinct in 1996, has been found in Israel and declared a living fossil. A living fossil is an organism that has no known close living relatives, has remained unevolved for millions of years and has lived past the extinction of its kind.

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The Hula frog was discovered in March 1940, when two frogs with dark bellies, white spots and an orange streak on their backs were found in Hula Lake, in the wetlands of Israel. Fifteen years later, a third Hula was found. That was it. After Hula Lake was drained, it was assumed there would be no more Hula frogs found. 

After decades of futile searches for the creature, the Hula painted frog became the first amphibian declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in 1996.

Then in 2011, the colorful frog resurfaced right before the eyes of an intrepid park ranger in the Hula Nature Reserve. Yoram Malka was doing a routine patrol of the park when he spotted the distinctive spots of the Hula painted frog. He'd been searching for a year for the frog.

Malka sent a photo from his phone to Sarig Gafny, a river ecologist at Ruppin Academic Center in Israel. When Gafny saw the photo, "everything fell out of my hands."

"I forgot about my fever, jumped into my car, and drove two hours north to see it," said Gafny, who coauthored a study on the frog in Nature Communications.

Gafny determined that the Hula frog, of which 14 have now been found since the first one in 2011, is the last living member of the Latonia group of amphibians. Once found throughout Europe for millions of years, all of Latonia died out some 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," said Gafny.

The frog was originally classified in the Discoglossus amphibian group, but after studying it, Gafny says, "with every characteristic that you look at in the current Hula painted frogs, it matches that of the fossils of Latonia."

Robin Moore, who works for the International Union for Conservation of Nature and toured the Hula Nature Reserve with Gafny, said, "Habitat loss remains the biggest threat to the survival of amphibians around the world, and it's important to be reminded that strategies to address it can work. We need these positive stories amid the doom and gloom."

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