Hula Painted Frog, Newly Rediscovered Species In Israel, Reclassified Into 'Extinct' Genus

06/09/2013 06:38 pm ET

An extremely rare species of frog has been classified into a genus previously known only through fossils, scientists declared this week.

In 1996, the Hula painted frog became the first amphibian officially considered extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Originally discovered in the Hula Valley in 1943, the last confirmed sighting had been in 1955, more than 40 years before scientists finally decided to label the species as extinct. In 2011, a park ranger named Yoram Malka spotted one of the frogs in the Hula Valley Nature Reserve.

Since then, scientists have discovered up to 14 of the frogs, National Geographic reports.

The IUCN has already redefined the frog from being “extinct” to “critically endangered” in 2012, but one detail of its classification remains outdated: The Hula painted frog is no longer considered to be a part of the Discoglossus genus.

Sarig Gafny, a scientist at the Ruppin Academic Center in Michmoret, Israel, conducted a study on the rediscovered species, published this week in Nature Communications journal. In addition to the exciting re-emergence of the frogs, new information came to light in Gafny’s study: The frog is not a member of the Discoglossus genus as previously thought, but instead is the last survivor of Latonia, an extinct amphibian genus previously known only through fossils.

"Imagine that somewhere in north east Asia someone discovered a local species of elephants that was not known to science, and then, two years later, they present strong evidence that this elephant species is actually a mammoth," Professor Gafny explained to the Huffington Post in an email. "I assume that finding a live mammoth would have been a striking piece of news."

Rebecca Biton, a paleontologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and co-author of the study, explained that the researchers decided to reclassify the frog after analyzing DNA and ancient frog bones. "The Hula painted frog is not what we thought it was," Biton told LiveScience.

According to Tablet Magazine, the Hula painted frog is indigenous to a location rich with history. Known as Merom in the Hebrew Bible, the location where Joshua supposedly defeated the Canaanites, the Hula Lake and surrounding marshlands were drained in the 1950s due to malarial concerns. Parts of the valley were flooded again and restored to become the Hula Valley Nature Reserve in the 1990s.

"Scientists tend to err on the side of caution before declaring something extinct, so we were pretty sure this frog was gone," said Robin Moore, the creative director of Amphibian Survival Alliance. "[The re-discovery of the Hula Painted Frog is] a real testament to the resilience of nature.”

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