Top 10 'Wanted Alive' Amphibians

Animal conservationists have created a Top 10 list of "Wanted Alive" amphibians.

An unprecedented search, taking place in 14 countries on five continents, is now underway to locate up to 100 species of "lost" amphibians, according to an announcement today by Conservation International (CI) and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group.

"Lost," in this case, refers to amphibians that are considered to be potentially extinct but that may be holding on in a few remote places. Some haven't been seen in nearly 100 years.

It's a sad reflection of the state of these animals today, since more than 30 percent of all amphibians are now threatened with extinction. We will ultimately suffer too, since amphibians help to keep down populations of insects that spread disease and damage crops. They also help to maintain healthy freshwater systems.

"Amphibians are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment, so they are often an indicator of damage that is being done to ecosystems," said CI's Robin Moore, who has organized the search for IUCN's Amphibian Specialist Group.

"But this role as the global ‘canary in a coal-mine' means that the rapid and profound change to the global environment that has taken place over the last fifty years or so – in particular climate change and habitat loss – has had a devastating impact on these incredible creatures. We've arranged this search for ‘lost' species that we believe may have managed to hang on so that we can get some definite answers – and hopefully learn about what has allowed some tiny populations of certain species to survive when the rest of their species has been lost."

The problems amphibians face from habitat loss have been massively exacerbated by a pathogenic fungus, which causes chytridiomycosis, a disease that has wiped-out entire populations of amphibians and in some cases whole species.

Out of the list of 100 missing-but-wanted amphibians, Moore and his team have chosen ten to highlight. He explained, "While it's very challenging to rate the importance of one species against another we have created this top 10 list because we feel that these particular animals have a particular scientific or aesthetic value."

Top 10 "Lost" Amphibians:

1. Golden toad, Incilius periglenes, Costa Rica. Last seen 1989. Perhaps the most famous of the lost amphibians. Went from abundant to extinct in a little over a year in the late 1980s.

(Image: Public Domain)

2. Gastric brooding frog, Australia. 2 species – Rheobatrachus vitellinus and R. silus, last seen 1985. (Had unique mode of reproduction: females swallowed eggs and raised tadpoles in the stomach. Gave birth to froglets through the mouth.)

(R. vitellinus; Image: Mike Tyler)

(R. silus; Image: John Wombey, Auscape International)

3. Mesopotamia Beaked Toad, Rhinella rostrata. Colombia. Last seen 1914. Fascinating frog with a distinctive pyramid-shaped head.

(Image: Paula Andrea Romero Ardila)

4. Jackson's climbing salamander, Bolitoglossa jacksoni, Guatemala. Last seen in 1975. Stunning black and yellow salamander – One of only two known specimens is believed to have been stolen from a Californian laboratory in the mid 1970s.

(Image: Dave Wake)

5. African Painted Frog, Callixalus pictus. Democratic Republic of Congo/Rwanda. Last seen 1950. Very little is known about this animal which is never thought to have been photographed.

(Image: © Society for the Study of Evolution/ Reproduced in Evolution Vol 18, No. 3 (Sept 1964) pp. 458-467)

6. Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad, Atelopus balios, Ecuador. Last seen in April 1995. May well have been wiped-out by chytridiomycosis.

(Image: Luis Coloma)

7. Turkestanian salamander, Hynobius turkestanicus. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. Last seen 1909. Known from only two specimens collected in 1909 somewhere "between Pamir and Samarkand"

(Image: © N.V. Panteleev/ Reproduced with permissions from Kuzmin S.L. 1999. Amphibians of the Former Soviet Union. Sofia: Pensoft Publ.)

8. Scarlet frog; Atelopus sorianoi, Venezuela. Last seen 1990. Known from a single stream in an isolated cloud forest.

(Image: Enrique La Marca)

9. Hula painted frog, Discoglossus nigriventer, Israel. Last seen 1955. A single adult collected in 1955 represents the last confirmed record of the species. Efforts to drain marshlands in Syria to eradicate malaria may have been responsible for the disappearance of this species.

(Image: © Professor Heinrich Mendelssohn)

10. Sambas Stream Toad , Ansonia latidisca. Borneo (Indonesia and Malaysia): Last seen 1950s. Increased sedimentation in streams after logging may have contributed to the decline.

(Image: Fieldiana Zoology; Reproduced by Inger 1966)

Dr Claude Gascon, co-chair of the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group and Executive Vice President of Conservation International said: "This is something that has never been done before, and is hugely significant, not only because of the threats that amphibians face and our need to understand what has been happening to them better, but also because it represents an incredible opportunity for the world's amphibian scientists to rediscover long-lost species.

"The search for these lost animals may well yield vital information in our attempts to stop the amphibian extinction crisis, and information that helps humanity to better understand the impact that we are having on the planet."

CI also provided the following...

* 10 FUN FACTS ABOUT AMERICAN AMPHIBIANS THAT MIGHT SURPRISE YOU 1. Female red-backed salamanders squash the feces of potential suitors to find out what they have been eating: they choose to mate with males who have eaten more termites, and fewer ants.

2. Spadefoot toads, found largely in the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico, smell like peanut butter.

3. The Spring peeper (widely distributed throughout the US and as far north as eastern and central Canada) can survive the winter season with 65% of its body water as ice.

4. Slimy salamanders – found through much of the eastern two thirds of the US – produce one of the stickiest substances known to man – it effectively glues shut the mouths of most would-be predators.

5. The "tail" of the Tailed Frog in the Pacific Northwest is actually a copulatory organ. It is very unique in that almost all other frogs can only perform external fertilization.

6. Thanks to cryoprotectant chemicals that act as "antifreeze" in and around their cells, wood frogs from all over North America can freeze solid and hop away after thawing out.

7. Amphiumas, eel-like aquatic salamanders of the southeastern US, have incredibly strong jaws that permit them to crush crayfish, their primary prey, with a single chomp. They also do a number on the fingers of biologists.

8. Possession of Colorado River Toads is illegal in California due to the popularity of "toad licking." These toads produce a powerful hallucinogen called bufotoxin.

9. American Bullfrogs – the largest North American frog – are territorial and protect their territories by calls, displays, chases, jump attacks, and even wrestling. This helps them survive 8-10 years in the wild, at an impressive size of six inches in length, with another 7-10 inches in leg length.

10. The largest amphibian in the US, (found mostly in New York, Illinois, Mississippi, West Virginia and Maryland) is the hellbender – which can grow to an enormous 30 inches in total length, making it the third largest salamander in the world.