Rediscovered 'Extinct' Hula Painted Frog is 'Living Fossil' in Israel

First Posted: Jun 04, 2013 01:57 PM EDT

About 60 years ago, the Hula painted frog was officially declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In fact, it was the first amphibian to make the dubious distinction of being labeled as gone from existence. Now, though, it turns out that this species may not have disappeared for good after all. This unique "living fossil" was recently rediscovered in the north of Israel.

The Hula painted frog is an extremely rare species of frog. In fact, it's the sole representative of an ancient clade of frogs, which means that it's part of a group with a single common ancestor. First catalogued within the Discoglossus group when it was first discovered in the Hula Valley of Israel in the early 1940s, the creature possesses a distinct, black-and-white spotted belly.

Soon after its discovery, though, the frog faced extinction. The Hula Lake, the habitat where the frog made its home, dried up at the end of the 1950s. After trying to find specimens of the frog years later, scientists came up empty handed. Finally, the IUCN declared the frog as extinct in 1996 and the opportunity to learn more about the species, its biology and its habitat disappeared.

Fast forward a few years, though, and that opportunity has returned. Two years ago, an individual was spotted by a park ranger. Since then, 13 more have been seen, according to BBC News. Based on new genetic analysis of recovered individuals and the morphologic analyses of extant fossil bones, researchers have rediscovered the Hula painted frog.

Yet the researchers didn't only rediscover the frog; they also made some other surprising findings. They discovered that the Hula painted frog differs strongly from its other living relatives, the painted frogs from northern and western Africa. Instead, the Hula frog is related to a genus of fossil frogs, known as Latonia. These frogs were once found over much of Europe and date back to prehistoric periods. In fact, this group was thought to have been extinct for about a million years.

"We felt like we had a great finding when we first rediscovered it--this [frog] was like an idol in Israel," said Sarig Gafny from the Ruppin Academic Center in Israel in an interview with BBC News. "But then we found it was a living fossil: this was amazing."

Currently, there are plans in place to reflood parts of the Hula Valley. The efforts could help keep the population of Hula painted frogs stable and may even allow for an expansion in population size. Hopefully, the conservation plans will secure a future for the frogs.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

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