Frog Rediscovered: Animal News
Israeli park ranger Yoram Malka caught only a fleeting glimpse of the frog as it leapt across the road, but this was no ordinary frog.
When he first saw the frog in northern Israel’s Hula Valley, Malka jerked his utility vehicle to a stop, bounded out of his seat, and jumped to catch the creature in his hands.
The animal had a mottled backside and a black belly with white dots. It belonged to a species that most scientists thought had disappeared from the Earth more than half a century ago.
In fact, the Hula painted frog was the first amphibian to officially be declared extinct in 1996. The last confirmed sighting of the frog was in 1955, after the draining of the Hula Valley wetlands, only about a decade after the amphibian had been discovered.
Now, it’s though there may be between 100 to 200 Hula painted frogs living in the Hula Valley. While not bad for a species once thought extinct, scientists think the frog’s range and population levels are greatly reduced from what they once were.
Based on detailed studies of DNA and skeletal morphology from recent specimens of the Hula painted frog, study author and Hebrew University of Jerusalem paleontologist Rebecca Biton has concluded that the species is the last living member of Latonia, a genus of frogs once found across Europe, as far west as Spain.
Fossils of Latonia frogs as old as two million years have also been found in Israel, but the group was thought to have died out more than 10,000 years ago.
Now, the Hula painted frog is considered a rare example of a so-called living fossil, an organism that has retained the same form over millions of years and that has few or no living relatives.
Only about a dozen other “living fossils” are known, the most famous of which may be the coelacanth, an ancient fish that can trace its ancestry back to the days of the dinosaurs.
There’s a moral to this story – just when you think it’s all over – it may not be.