Scientists find missing tree frogs
Scientists find missing tree frogs This 2010 photo provided by biologist S.D. Biju shows a Frankixalus jerdonii, belonging to a newly found genus of frogs, seated in the wild. (SD Biju via AP)
Scientists find missing tree frogs
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For more than a century, two mysterious tree frog specimens collected by a British naturalist in 1870 and housed at the Natural History Museum in London were assumed to be part of a vanished species, until now.
A group of scientists, led by renowned Indian biologist Sathyabhama Das Biju, has rediscovered the frogs. The scientists also identified them as part of a new genus, one step higher than a species on the taxonomic ranking. Not only have they found the frogs in abundance in northeast Indian jungles, they believe they could also be living across much of Asia, from China to Thailand.
"This is an exciting find. But it doesn't mean the frogs are safe," Biju said, adding that he hopes the discovery leads to more awareness of the dangers of unfettered development to the animals. The frogs were found at high altitudes in four northeast Indian states. They underlined the rain-soaked region's role as a biodiversity hotspot.
Some of the forest areas where Biju's team collected frogs in 2007 and 2008 were already slashed and burned by 2014 for agricultural development. The region's tropical forests are quickly disappearing. This is because of programs to cut trees, plant rice, expand human settlements and build roads.
Industrial growth amid a decade-long economic boom has also increased pollution, to which frogs are particularly vulnerable. That same sensitivity to climate and water quality makes them perfect environmental barometers. It puts them at risk when ecological systems go awry. Of the more than 7,000 amphibian species known globally, about 32 percent are threatened with extinction. That is according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
"This frog is facing extreme stress in these areas, and could be pushed to extinction simply from habitat loss," Biju said. "We're lucky in a way to have found it before that happens. But we're all worried."
Finding the frogs was an accident. The team had been searching the forest floor for other amphibians in 2007. Then one night, "we heard a full musical orchestra coming from the treetops. It was magical. Of course we had to investigate," Biju said.
For the study of the new frog genus, Frankixalus, published by the Public Library of Science journal PLOS ONE, Biju and his doctoral students teamed up with researchers from the central Indian state of Pune, Sri Lanka, Brussels and the American Museum of Natural History.
They looked at the frogs' behavior. They collected specimens and described their outer appearance and skeletal features. But it wasn't until they had sequenced the frogs' genetic code that they confirmed it as a new genus. They surprisingly found another DNA match from a single tadpole specimen reported recently under a mistaken identity in China.
The frogs had long been considered lost to science. The only previously known specimens were collected in 1870 by British naturalist T.C. Jerdon in the forests of Darjeeling. Over decades, the frogs were reclassified at least four times in cases of incorrect identity. Scientists drew conclusions from the frogs' enlarged snouts or the webbing between their toes.
Biju believes the frogs remained hidden from science so long because of their secretive lifestyle. They live in tree holes at heights up to 20 feet. Most tree frogs live in shrubs or tree holes closer to the ground. But other experts suggest that, while the uniquely high habitat does make them hard to find, the frogs probably remained in obscurity simply because there are so few scientists working in the remote region.
"This part of Southeast Asia, in particular, is poorly inventoried," said James Hanken, a biology professor and director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Given the habitat threats and alarming rate of extinctions worldwide, he said the "remarkable" tree frog find "points out that we may be losing even more species than we know or can fully document."
"It doesn't in any way offset the tragic losses represented by global amphibian extinction," said Hanken, who was not involved in the tree frog study.
Biju's team named the new frog genus Frankixalus after herpetologist Franky Bossuyt. He was Biju's adviser when he was a student at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels. Only two species within the genus have been identified, including the Frankixalus jeronii first described in the 19th century. The scientists are still trying to confirm whether a second collected species was mistakenly named within another genus of tree frogs. There are now 18 tree frog genera known worldwide.
The study documents the tree frogs' unusual maternal behavior. Females lay fertilized eggs in a tree hole filled with water. They return at regular intervals after the tadpoles hatch to feed them with unfertilized eggs.
"This is incredible," Biju said, excitedly dumping a pile of pickled tadpoles onto a glass-covered table in his office at the University of Delhi. He selected one to place under a microscope. The magnification reveals a clutch of undigested eggs still inside the tadpole's belly. "Do you see these eggs? Just imagine, the mother is coming back over and over and dropping these eggs for her babies to eat."
The tadpoles have smooth, suction-like mouths to pull in the eggs. Their eyes are positioned on the top of their heads, rather than on the sides. Biju suggested the feature may help the tadpoles see eggs being dropped by mother frogs into the hole during feeding time.
Fully grown, the frogs are about as big as a golf ball. Uniquely, they feed mostly on vegetation, rather than insects and larvae.
"Frogs have been around for 350 million years, and have evolved to face so many habitat challenges," said Biju, who is known in India by the nickname "The Frog Man."  He has discovered 89 of the 350 or so frog species known to be in the country.

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Why was it so difficult to find the tree frogs?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • joshuas1-jon
    2/01/2016 - 01:04 p.m.

    I liked this article because it told the entire story of how they found the frog and how they found out it was a new species.

  • debasmitak-lam
    2/03/2016 - 01:36 p.m.

    Many discoveries are made unconventionally,like this new species of frogs that have been rediscovered. It amuses me to think that, when we believed a certain species to have gone extinct, they have reappeared.

  • wayh-tra
    2/05/2016 - 01:55 p.m.

    Because they lived in tree holes up to 20 feet off the ground. The frogs were found at high altitudes. The common tree-frog is, as its name implies, an inhabitant of the trees.

  • jesr-tra
    2/05/2016 - 03:18 p.m.

    The tree frogs live in tree holes that are 20 feet high. In the passage, it explains that because they are high up, it makes them hard to find. "The uniquely high habitat does make them hard to find." It is relevant to class life because it helps us to know more about about the tree frogs when we never heard of them before.

  • tiag-tra
    2/05/2016 - 04:27 p.m.

    It was so difficult to find the tree frogs because no one thought to look where they were. According to the article, researchers had been searching the forest floor for new life. They did not think to look in the trees. This is relevant to us because we are environmental science students who study the environment.

  • kaleyw5-pla
    2/10/2016 - 08:06 p.m.

    This amazing species of frog that was thought to be extinct is in fact still there after all of these years. It's amazing that they were able to hide from scientist for that long but this is due to their strange living. They prefer to live up in trees at least 20 feet up making it near impossible for scientist to have know about the fascinating creatures. It's interesting that they only came upon these by accident. Now that they are found scientist are about to uncover mysteries that they had about extinct animals.

    I liked this passage because it makes you think are there more animals out there that are thought to be extinct but are really hiding in plain sight. I think it is also cool how scientists are able to use the discovery of these frogs to look at every extinct animals more closely, it also made them even go back and look at the classifications that they had done earlier. This article is very relevant because it points out that we might be losing animals than we know and are able to keep track of. It is sad that animals like this are being pushed out of their homes but now that science knows they are there they can keep a closer eye on them and do more to protected them which couldn't have happened if they hadn't been discovered. Hopefully these new discoveries will lead them to even more discoveries and advancements.

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    3/06/2016 - 09:05 p.m.

    It's difficult to find tree frogs because their habitats are being destroyed. They are also small and tend to hang out in places hidden from the view of others. I find this article interesting because I've always loved the idea of being, even living in, a rain forest. Many people find the places like the beach relaxing, but I would want to go to the mountains or a rain forest if I had the opportunity to. I guess I'd just rather be exploring a new place, without a bunch of people around, looking to get a nice tan.

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