The hula painted frog of Israel, last seen in any form in the 1950s and long thought extinct, isn't extinct after all as it was seen again in 2011 and confirmed in a study published today in the journal Nature Communications. The frog, endemic to Israel's Hula Valley was first discovered in the early 1940s and was named Discoglossus nigriventer for its disk-like tongue and black belly. It was declared extinct by the IUCN in 1996. This marks the first time an amphibian officially declared extinct was rediscovered.
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Hula Painted Frog. Photo by Mickey Samuni-Blank/Wikimedia
In 2011, Yoram Malka, a park ranger in Israel watched as a frog crossed the road in Israel's Hula Valley. As National Geographic reports, Malka jumped out of his vehicle and pounced on the frog, catching the frog in his hands. Malka then snapped a photo of the frog with his cell phone camera and forwarded the image to Sarig Gafny of Israel's Ruppin Academic Center, who left his office and drove two hours to see the frog for himself. The frog turned about to be the hula painted frog, a species declared extinct in 1996. What is also unique about this species is the fact that study author and paleontologist Rebecca Biton of Hebrew University of Jerusalem has called the frog a "living fossil" not closely related to modern day frogs, but rather, more closely related to a genus of fossil frogs from the Latonia family that were found all over what is now Europe and date to the prehistoric periods. This family of amphibians has been considered extinct for about one million years.
In their Nature Communications study, the researchers base these relations on new genetic analyses of the rediscovered frogs as well as morphological analyses of extant and fossil bones. They determined in their study that the Hula frog is actually quite different from its closest living relatives, the painted frogs that hail from northern and western Africa. In total, the researchers discovered 14 Hula painted frogs and estimate that there may be between 100 and 200 Hula painted frogs in their home range of the Hula Valley. The Hula painted frog is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
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Currently, Gafny and his team of researchers are trying to acquire funds to continue studies on the frog, including where and how it breeds, what the tadpoles look like, if they are nocturnal, and other traits of the species.
Researchers who worked on the paper include Rebecca Biton, a Ph.D. student of Dr. Rivka Rabinovich of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, Prof. Sarig Gafny of the Ruppin Academic Center, Prof. Eli Geffen of Tel Aviv University, Dr. Vlad Brumfeld of the Weizmann Institute of Science and other researchers.