Extinct frog found


It's not often that an extinct animal comes back to life. Meet Amoured Mistfrog.

Armoured Mistfrog

The thought to be extinct Amoured Mistfrog has been found again in Far North Queensland.

Credit: Robert Puschendorf

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It's not often that an extinct animal comes back to life. So imagine PhD student Robert Puschendorf's surprise when, on a research trip to some remote creeks near Port Douglas, he came across the Armoured Mistfrog - a species of tree frog not seen since 1991.

Puschendorf was studying how the sister species of the Armoured Mistfrog, the Waterfall Frog, has survived an onslaught of amphibian chytrid fungus, thought to be responsible for the extinction of 30 per cent of the amphibian species worldwide.

The tiny 37-millimeter-long Armoured Mistfrog, Litoria lorica, was thought to have died out from the same fungal disease.

But obviously it did not.

"I was really excited when I found the frog" says Puschendorf.

"I suspected them to be the 'extinct' Armoured Mistfrog from the first moment I saw but them. They fitted in the description pretty well, but identifying some species of frog can be extremely tricky."

It took a few weeks before taxonomist Conrad Hoskin from Canberra, confirmed that they were the species thought to be extinct.

The find is good news for another reason. It means that some frogs can live with the fungus, though it's is still not certain how they managed to do it.

"Both the Armoured Mist Frogs and the Waterfall Frogs have relatively high rates of infection by the fungus," says professor Ross Alford from James Cook University.

"But the infections are not reaching levels that cause illness, and as long as that does not happen, they do not have any measurable effects on the infected frogs."

The frogs have survived, says Alford, because their adopted habitat is hotter and dryer than their usual dense rainforest home - unfortunate circumstances for the amphibian chytrid fungus, which thrives in hot, humid climates.

Since the tree frogs haven't been seen for 17 years, the researchers cannot yet tell whether the recently discovered frogs have rebounded from their near extinction levels or are the last individuals of the population to die out.

"But [the population] certainly is in good shape at present," says Albert.

The frogs typically live in very rugged habitat, along steep rocky streams, making them difficult for scientists to find.

What makes this discovery so important in the end is "that it emphasizes that it is a good idea not to assume that the known range of a species is the only possible range," says Alford.