Scientists are baffled by a new species of toad with red eyes that was discovered in Colombia. (Credit: Robin Moore)
Many species of amphibians have vanished without a trace, due to habitat loss, climate change, and disease. So Robin Moore, an amphibian expert at Conservation International, led The Search for Lost Frogs, which sent researchers around the globe looking for these “missing” species. Moore tells host Bruce Gellerman that the search produced both major disappointments and startling discoveries.
GELLERMAN: Teams of scientific sleuths have just finished scanning the globe for lost frogs. The researchers weren't searching for your ordinary garden-variety frog, but a hundred species of amphibians that haven't been seen in at least a decade - some haven't been sighted in more than a century, like the Sharp Snouted Day Frog, which has been missing for 13 years.
[SOUND OF THE SHARP SNOUTED DAY FROG]
GELLERMAN: Well the results of the global frog survey are now in, and there are many surprises, and some major disappointments. Robin Moore, an amphibian expert at Conservation International, led the search. And Robin, we spoke last fall when you just started looking for the frogs. Welcome back!
MOORE: Thank you for having me!
GELLERMAN: You hoped to find a hundred lost species of frogs, and you didn't even come close.
MOORE: Yeah, we found a total of four in the end. So it was a disappointing number for sure.
GELLERMAN: Well number one on your top-ten list of lost frogs to find was something called the Golden Toad in Costa Rica. Did you find it?
MOORE: We did not find the Golden Toad. That was one I was disappointed about. I was hoping that some species may come out the woodwork, you know - some species that we thought had gone may turn up to be there. But the Golden Toad was one that just remained elusive and did not turn up.
GELLERMAN: What do you think happened to it?
MOORE: It would seem that this deadly fungus that's been wiping throughout the world may have been responsible. And it may be a combination of the fungus with climate change”¦and I think it's likely that, as in the case of a lot of amphibians, it's just a lot of factors are conspiring to make a sort of deadly cocktail of threats to amphibians.
GELLERMAN: You had high hopes for the Mesopotamia Beaked Toad - what happened to the Mesopotamia Beaked Toad? I love the way that sounds.
MOORE: (Laughs). Yeah, the Mesopotamia Beaked Toad, ironically, lives in Colombia. It hasn't been seen in almost a hundred years. I was hopeful that we might come across this, and unfortunately we didn't find this species. But our lack of finding our lost species in Colombia was made up for by some potentially new species that we came across. So, it was kind of a bittersweet expedition.
GELLERMAN: Yeah, I guess you found a frog, a species of frog, that has no name - it was never been found before.
MOORE: Well, there's a toad with red eyes that really is an unusual species - it has no name, it's never been found. So it's really - right now - a mystery as to what this is. We've been doing a little brainstorming on what to call it and we're not sure actually what we will name it. We want to call it something that's descriptive and sort of appropriate to where we found it and what it looks like, because it's very unusual with these red eyes.
GELLERMAN: You found it in the rainforest, right?
GELLERMAN: How about the Colombia Red-Eye Rainforester?
MOORE: Yeah. (Laughs). Yeah, it could be!
GELLERMAN: You really struck it rich in India. There was one frog that was found in a trashcan?
MOORE: Yeah, we came across one of the lost frogs - hadn't been seen for 30 years - in a rubbish bin, in a trashcan.
GELLERMAN: So how did you know to look in a trashcan for a frog?
MOORE: I wasn't actually looking for a frog when I lifted the lid of the trashcan - I was disposing of a banana skin. So it really was unexpected. It started bouncing around the inside of the rubbish bin, so I just pulled it out, and Dr. Biju, who we were with from the University of Delhi, was able to instantly recognize it as one of the lost frogs.
GELLERMAN: You also went to Haiti. And I think the real challenge there is not just finding the frogs, but finding the forest.
MOORE: One of the things we wanted to highlight with our expedition there is that there is still some forest left. There's some small patch of beautiful cloud forest perched on top of this rugged mountain - very remote, isolated area. So we went to show the world that there is still incredible biodiversity and species that live nowhere else. One of the species we came across is the Ventriloquial Frog.
[CALL OF THE VENTRILOQUIAL FROG]
MOORE: We were able to hear its call - it has a very distinctive call.
GELLERMAN: Kind of weird!
MOORE: Yeah, it's quite a complex call for such a little frog. And one of the interesting features is that it actually throws its call. So how we usually find these frogs is we listen for the call, and then we hone in on the source of the call and we find the frog. With this one, we were honing in and it was leading us to nowhere - the frog was throwing its call, so it made it very challenging to actually find this thing.
GELLERMAN: The one I really am curious about is one in Haiti called the Mozart Frog - why is it called the Mozart Frog?
MOORE: Yeah, it's got a very interesting name and interesting story actually. The person that described that frog took some call recordings and when he plotted them out on an audiogram, they bore a remarkable resemblance to the musical notes in one of Mozart's scores.
[CALL OF THE MOZART FROG]
MOORE: So, he called it the Mozart Frog after this.
GELLERMAN: You also found a frog with a very “froggy” voice.
[SOUND OF THE MACAYA BURROWING FROG]
MOORE: Yeah, we also found the Macaya Burrowing Frog. This is another surprise because this had never been found in this area before. So it had the team a little baffled actually, when we heard and when we found this one because it really”¦it wasn't even on our list of ones that we hoped to find.
GELLERMAN: Do you have a favorite frog call that you can mimic?
MOORE: (Laughs). I”¦There is a video online where I was asked to do some frog calls and I've never lived it down. But I think one of my favorite ones is a frog in Australia called the Pobblebonk Frog. And it basically just goes: pobblebonk, pobblebonk, pobblebonk. It's basically named after exactly how the call sounds - pobblebonk.
GELLERMAN: What is it about frogs that you find so fascinating?
MOORE: I always found them fascinating growing up. I think it was the fact that I could pick them up and play with them and I could take the tadpoles home and watch them develop. I felt a very intimate connection with them that I couldn't get with birds or mammals that would bite me.
And now that I'm older, amphibians, to me, are at the forefront of an extinction crisis, so they're an exceptionally important group of vertebrates that are sounding an alarm - they're telling us something is wrong. And they play a very important role in our ecosystems that we're all reliant on. So to me, they're extremely fascinating, but also very important animals.
GELLERMAN: Well, Robin Moore, I really enjoyed talking with you - thank you very much.
MOORE: Okay, thank you very much.
GELLERMAN: Robin Moore travels the world in search of amphibians for Conservation International.
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