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Six Haitian frogs, lost and now found

One year after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, scientists in early 2011 find hope in the rediscovery of six species of frogs.

In Haiti, scientists have rediscovered six species of frogs that had not been seen in almost two decades. The announcement – coming as the country marked the first anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake that leveled the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince – provides a message of resilience and hope for the people and wildlife of Haiti, according to scientists who made the discovery. You can see a list of the six recovered frogs here.

At the same time, however, scientists are saying that many Haitian species of plants and animals will become extinct in the next several decades, due to deforestation.

The search for the frogs was supported by Conservation International, which is supporting expeditions in 18 countries with the goal of updating the status of “missing” amphibian species. The team in Haiti’s target was the La Selle Grass frog, which has not been seen in over 25 years. The La Selle Grass frog is still at large, but the frogs that did turn up are fascinating and beautiful creatures themselves.

For example, the juvenile Macaya Breast-spot Frog – below – is one of the smallest frogs in the world. Fully grown, it’s about the size of a grape.

Juvenile Macaya breast-spot landfrog, Eleutherodactylus thorectes, a critically endangered species, on a quarter. From the Massif de la Hotte, Haiti. Copyright Robin Moore/iLCP

The frog in the next image – known as a Hispaniolan Ventriloquial Frog – has a special voice. It projects like a ventriloquist, and its call sounds more like a bird chirping than the “ribbit” we Americans might associate with frog voices. You can hear its call here.

Ventriloqual Frog, Eleutherodactylus dolomedes, a critically endangered species on the Massif de la Hotte, Haiti. Last seen 1991. Copyright Robin Moore/iLCP

This next frog is the Macaya Burrowing Frog, which scientists say was a “surprise find.” They say this is the first record of this species from this area (previously only known from two localities on the Massif de la Hotte). Males in this species call from underground chambers, and their eggs are also laid underground. They hatch directly into “froglets,” skipping the tadpole stage.

Macaya Burrowing Frog, Eleutherodactylus parapelates, a critically endangered species from the Massif de la Hotte, Haiti. Last seen 1996. Copyright Robin Moore/iLCP

One of the leaders of the expedition, Dr. Robin Moore, said in a press release that the discoveries bring hope to Haiti.

It was incredible. We went in looking for one missing species and found a treasure trove of others. That, to me, represents a welcome dose of resilience and hope for the people and wildlife of Haiti.

Meanwhile, the long-term prognosis for wildlife in Haiti is not strong. The country has not only been damaged by the January 12, 2010 earthquake, but deforestation has left Haiti with less than two percent of its original forest cover. The loss of forest has serious consequences for Haiti’s plant and animal life. Blair Hedges, the other expedition leader, made a clear warning in a statement.

During the next few decades, many Haitian species of plants and animals will become extinct because the forests where they live, which originally covered the entire country, are nearly gone. The decline of frogs in particular, because they are especially vulnerable, is a biological early-warning signal of a dangerously deteriorating environment. When frogs start disappearing, other species will follow and the Haitian people will suffer, as well, from this environmental catastrophe.

To see more information about these rare frogs that have been rediscovered in Haiti, check out Conservation International’s frog photo gallery on SmugMug.

Amidst the suffering that continues to plague Haiti, the presence and rediscovery of six frog species – once believed to be lost – is a sign, however small, of hope.

Via Conservation International

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