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Three new frogs leap into spotlight

Robin Moore / iLCP

A new species of beaked toad from the genus Rhinella is thought to skip the tadpole stage, hatching directly into toadlets from eggs laid on the rainforest floor in Colombia.

When a team of scientists headed into the forests of western Colombia in September, they were hoping to rediscover a long-lost frog species that hadn't been seen in decades. They never did find the lost species -- but today they announced that they've come across three previously unknown species of amphibians.

The new species include a long-nosed beaked toad that can camouflage itself as a dead leaf, an only-somewhat-poisonous rocket frog with flashes of red on its legs, and a red-eyed frog that's so mysterious scientists don't know exactly how to classify it.

September's expedition involved scientists from Conservation International, the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group, Global Wildlife Conservation and Fundacion ProAves. Their aim was to find the long-lost Mesopotamia beaked toad, which hasn't been seen since the outbreak of World War I. The toad is described as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and it's on the "Ten Most Wanted" list in the "Search for Lost Frogs."


The scientists looked in habitats ranging from steamy rainforests to chilly cloudforests fo Colombia's Choco and Antioquia departments.

"After spending several days searching for the Mesopotamia beaked toad with no success, the team’s spirits were pretty low," Robin Moore, who organized the search, said today in a news release. "But finding these new species, including a new beaked toad, was like a shot of adrenaline. We definitely left on a high."

Here's how the species were described:

  • Beaked toad,  genus Rhinella: Found in the rainforests of Chocó department of Colombia. The toad has a long, pointy, snoutlike nose that reminded Moore of the nefarious "Mr. Burns" character on "The Simpsons" TV show. George Meyer, who was a longtime "Simpsons" writer/producer as well as a member of Conservation International's Chairman's Council, agreed that the toad's "imperious profile and squinty eyes" were positively Burnsian. In addition to its strange appearance, the toad is unusual in that it probably skips the tadpole stage, laying eggs on the forest floor that hatch directly into toadlets. The coloration and shape of the head make the toad resemble the dead leaves on which it lives, and the only two individuals found were no larger than an inch in length.

Robin Moore / iLCP

This red-eyed frog, discovered during a survey in Colombia, appears to represent an entirely new amphibian genus.

  • Toad species, genus undetermined: Found on the forest floor, this toad is about an inch and a half (3 to 4 centimeters) in length, with striking bright red eyes. This highly unusual species has scientists baffled -- they know nothing about this species other than where it lives, which is around the 7,000-foot (2,000-meter) elevation in the Choco montane rainforest. Scientists trekked up very steep slopes to reach the habitat where they found the new toad. "I have never seen a toad with such vibrant red eyes," Moore said. "This trait is highly unusual for amphibians, and its discovery offers us a terrific opportunity to learn more about how and why it adapted this way."

Robin Moore / iLCP

This new species of rocket frog from the genus Silverstoneia was found in Colombia's Choco department.

  • Rocket frog, genus Silverstoneia: This is a type of poison dart frog -- a group that has given rise to many chemicals found to be useful to humans. This particular species is less poisonous than its brightly colored relatives. Living in and around streams, the rocket frogs carefully carry newly hatched tadpoles on their backs to deposit them in water to complete their development. This is a small species, which probably does not grow larger than an inch and a half (3 centimeters) in length.

"Finding three new species in such a short space of time speaks to the incredibly rich biodiversity of these relatively unexplored forests, and highlights their importance for conservation," Moore said. "Protecting these habitats into the future will be essential to ensure the survival of both the amphibians and the benefits that they bring to ecosystems and people."

The "Search for Lost Frogs" campaign is meant to draw attention to the extinction threat that amphibian species face, as well as the role that they play in controlling insects, maintaining freshwater systems, and fueling the development of new drugs. Scientists are searching for long-lost species in 19 countries on five continents -- and in September, searchers announced that three "lost" species were rediscovered. The first phase of the campaign is due to continue through the end of 2010,

More species lost and found:


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