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Froggy finds raise hopes for Haiti

Robin Moore / iLCP

The Macaya Breast-spot Landfrog was rediscovered during a post-quake expedition to Haiti, almost 20 years after the previous sighting. Click through a slideshow featuring the exotic "lost" frogs of Haiti.

Conservationists have rediscovered six species of frogs in Haiti, offering a ray of hope for the country on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that left it in shambles.

"I am very wary of highlighting frogs at this time in Haiti. Obviously the country has very pressing needs, but I think ultimately they are a symbol of something more hopeful," said Robin Moore, an amphibian expert with Conservation International who helped lead the expedition that found the frogs.

Among the highlights are a frog that calls like a ventriloquist that was last seen in 1991 and only known from a few individuals; a frog with unusually striking blue sapphire-colored eyes; and a frog that's the size of a grape, one of the smallest amphibians in the world. (Click through our slideshow featuring the cute little guys.)


Remote forest refuges
"A common assumption about Haiti is that there is nothing left to save," Moore said in a news release announcing the frog rediscoveries. "That is not entirely true. There are biologically rich pockets of environmental health and natural wealth in Haiti."

That said, less than 2 percent of Haiti's original forest remains, and the freshwater ecosystems on which Haitians depend are mostly degraded, according to the conservationists.

Moore and colleague Blair Hedges from Pennsylvania State University led an expedition to the mountains of southwestern Haiti to look for long-lost frogs. Over the course of eight days, they scoured the trees, riverbeds and ground for amphibians. They found 25 unique species out of the country's 49 known native species, including six critically endangered species not seen in at least a decade.

"We were hopeful that we would find some amphibians," Moore told me. "I was extremely surprised at just how many we found of these critically endangered species."

He added that the discoveries serve as an incentive to keep conservation efforts alive in the struggling country.

"As long as we have a decent patch of forest left, we have something to protect and something to build on," Moore said. "You have opportunities for developing alternatives such as shade-grown coffee, which is a very attractive alternative to current cash crops."

Search for lost frogs
The announcement of the six rediscovered frogs comes on the heels of a Conservation International expedition to western Colombia that scared up three previously unknown frog species.

The Colombian 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.

Conservation International's expeditions to Colombia and Haiti expeditions are part of the group's "Search for Lost Frogs" campaign, which was launched in the summer of 2010 to locate frog species that have not been seen for at least a decade and are feared to be extinct. Conservation International and its partners at the Amphibian Specialist Group of IUCN plan to launch a new campaign later this year.

More species lost and found:


John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).