Whistling Frogs Found in Haiti

A whistling frog named after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and an elusive ventriloquist frog are found in Haiti.

A whistling frog named after composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and an elusive ventriloquist frog that can throw its voice are two of six frog species - once thought lost to extinction - that were recently found alive in Haiti, according to Conservation International.

(Haitian cloudforest that is home to many critically endangered amphibian species; Credit for all images unless otherwise noted: Robin Moore, International League of Conservation Photographers)

This positive news for wildlife conservation comes as Haiti marks the painful anniversary of last year's catastrophic earthquake that struck the Caribbean country on Jan. 12. The Haitian government estimates that 230,000 people died as a result of the 7.0 quake.

Haiti's wildlife was also adversely affected, but recovery continues and somehow the six "lost" frogs survived in the country's tropical forests.

"It was incredible," CI's Amphibian Conservation Specialist Robin Moore said in a press release. "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."

Moore and Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University led an expedition to the remote mountains of southwest Haiti this past October. Their goal was to search for the long lost La Selle Grass frog (E. glanduliferoides) that had not been seen in more than 25 years. They also assessed the status of many of Haiti's 48 other native species of amphibians, most of which depend on the country's shrinking mountain regions: Massif de la Hotte in the southwest and Massif de la Selle in the southeast.

(La Selle Grass frog- Still missing and last seen in 1985; Credit: S. Blair Hedges)

The scientists never did find the La Selle Grass frog, but they did rediscover the six following unusual species, described by CI:

#1. Hispaniolan Ventriloquial Frog (Eleutherodactylus dolomedes)- last seen in 1991

This frog is named after its call, which it projects like the ventriloquist that inspired its name. Its unusual call consists of a rapid, seven-note series of chirps, with the initial four notes rising slowly in pitch before plateauing; the call is released in widely-spaced intervals, often minutes apart. Prior to this expedition, the species was only known from a few individuals.

SEE ALSO: 10 Most Interesting, Threatened and Endangered Frogs

#2. Mozart's Frog (E. amadeus)- last seen in 1991

Called Mozart's frog because when Blair Hedges, who discovered the species, made an audiospectrogram of the call, it coincidentally resembled musical notes. Its call is a four-note muffled whistle at night, usually given as a shorter, two-note call at dawn and dusk.

#3. La Hotte Glanded Frog (E. glandulifer)- last seen in 1991

This frog's most distinctive feature is its striking blue sapphire-colored eyes – a highly unusual trait among amphibians.

#4. Macaya Breast-Spot Frog (E. thorectes)- last seen in 1991

(Juvenile Macaya Breast-Spot Frog)

Approximately the size of a green grape, this is one of the smallest frogs in the world. In Haiti, this species has a very restricted range, occurring only on the peaks of Formon and Macaya at high elevations on the Massif de la Hotte.

#5. Hispaniolan Crowned Frog (E. corona)- last seen in 1991

This species was named after a subtle row of protuberances that resemble a crown on the back of its head. Prior to this expedition, the species was known from less than 10 individuals, and is likely to be extremely rare. It is an arboreal species, occurring in high-elevation cloud forest. Males call from bromeliads or orchids, which they appear to require for reproduction.

#6. Macaya Burrowing Frog (E. parapelates)- last seen in 1996

This is the first record of the species from this area (previously only known from two localities on the Massif de la Hotte). It is now the only place where two burrowing frogs are known to share the same habitat. This species is quite spectacular, with big jet black eyes and bright orange flashes on the legs. Males call from shallow, underground chambers and eggs are also laid underground, where they hatch directly into froglets.

Aside from the earthquake, large-scale deforestation continues to threaten the country's wildlife. According to CI, less than two percent of Haiti's original forest cover remains, and most of the fresh water ecosystems there are degraded. The cloud forests of the southwest mountains, however, stand tall as one of the last remaining pockets of environmental health and natural wealth in Haiti. The Alliance for Zero Extinction highlights the Massif de la Hotte as the "third-highest site-level conservation priority in the world." It has 15 endemic amphibian species found only in this one region.

"A common assumption about Haiti is that there is nothing left to save," said Moore, who also documents his findings as a photographer with the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). "That is not entirely true. There are biologically rich pockets intact, despite tremendous environmental pressures. Haiti now has the opportunity to design their reconstruction plans around these pockets, and grow them, so they can more effectively act as natural buffers to climate change and natural disasters."

Hedges added that there is little time to waste in this effort.

"The biodiversity of Haiti, including its frogs, is approaching a mass extinction event caused by massive and nearly complete deforestation," he said. "Unless the global community comes up with a solution soon, we will lose many unique species forever."

The six newly rediscovered frog species hopefully foreshadow many more such environmental success stories from Haiti to come.

Moore concluded, "Finding six lost species in these relatively small corners of the country tells us that, despite tremendous human pressures, nature is hanging on in Haiti. There is reason to hope. Managed properly, these species and ecosystems can become a source of natural wealth and national pride for the country, that we hope will offer long-term benefits for its people."

The amphibian project will continue throughout 2011. To follow its progress, please visit The Search for Lost Frogs.