PARIS – The first amphibian to have been declared extinct by the world’s conservation watchdog has been named a “living fossil” after it was rediscovered alive and well in northern Israel, researchers reported Tuesday.
In 1996, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) put the Hula painted frog (Discoglossus nigriventer) in the same sad category as the dodo after its sole known habitat, Hula Lake in northern Israel, was drained.
But Israeli, German and French researchers, writing in the journal Nature Communications, say that the white-spotted brownish frog is not only still around — it can also be classified, rather remarkably, as a “living fossil.”
In October 2011, a patrol in the nature reserve found an adult Hula painted frog close to a small pond, they reported.
“Since then, we have recorded 10 more specimens (five males, one female and four juveniles) all within a restricted area of about 1.25 hectares,” they said.
The team then carried out a DNA test on the specimens, and compared the genome, body shape and bones against painted frogs from northern and western Africa.
To their surprise, D. nigriventer was found to be quite different from the other painted frogs.
In fact, it is the only surviving member of a clan, or species group, called the Latonia frogs. All its relatives died out in Europe about a million years ago, a few of which became preserved in fossilized form.
The Hula painted frog was first spotted in the early 1940s, when two adults and two tadpoles were found in the eastern part of the Hula Valley.
It was next sighted in 1955 during the drainage of the valley — and thereafter was not seen again.
“Not only has this species survived undetected in its type locality for almost 60 years, but also . . . it is a surviving member of an otherwise extinct genus,” the paper said. “The survival of this living fossil is a striking example of resilience to severe habitat degradation during the past century by an amphibian.”