An Extinct Frog Reappears in Israel

In addition to coming back from extinction, the amphibian also represents the only living species of a unique class of frogs

The Hula painted frog
The Hula painted frog Sarig Gafny

For once, good news on the conservation front: a frog that disappeared in 1950s and was subsequently declared extinct has reappeared, alive and well, in its old hopping grounds. Called the Hula painted frog, back in 1996 the amphibian was the first ever to be declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation. Now, the IUCN is issuing a happy correction, listing the frog as critically endangered rather than extinct.

National Geographic reports on how the frog was rediscovered in its native Hula Valley in Israel:

Israeli park ranger Yoram Malka caught only a fleeting glimpse of the frog as it leapt across the road, but he knew it was something special.

When he first saw the frog in northern Israel’s Hula Valley, Malka jerked his utility vehicle to a stop, bounded out of his seat, and jumped atop it, catching the creature in his hands.

Malka sent a river ecologist a photo of the frog he took on his cell phone. The shocked ecologist immediately dropped what he was doing and drove two hours to meet Malka and see the frog, NatGeo reports.

After studying the frog, researchers realized its uniqueness extended beyond coming back from extinction. The species, they determined, belongs to an otherwise extinct genus of frogs. Nature reports:

When the Hula painted frog was first described in 1943, it was classified as Discoglossus nigriventer, alongside other living species within the same genus. But when Gafny and his colleagues sequenced DNA from their specimens, they found that the frog sits outside the Discoglossus clade, which they estimate it diverged from around 32 million years ago.

The frogs’ skeletons supported the DNA evidence. Rebecca Biton at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel put dead specimens in a computed tomography scanner and found that they had the distinguishing features of Latonia — a fossil genus whose youngest specimens were 15,000 years old.

So far, researchers have caught 14 of the frogs. The researchers plan to carry out further studies to answer basic questions about the animal, such as when and how it breeds and whether it’s active at night or during the day. For now, however, they’re taking time to enjoy an all-too-rare conservation success story.

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