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Extinct Australian frog found alive after 30 years

05/03/2010 08:59:49

The Yellow-spotted Bell Frog had been thought to have become extinct until it was rediscovered in 2009 by Senior Fisheries Conservation Officer, Luke Pearce from the Department of Industry and Investment Photo Dr David Hunter

The Yellow-spotted Bell Frog rediscovered in Australia after 30 years of ‘extinction'

March 2010. An Australian species of frog that was believed to have gone extinct 30 years ago has been discovered in the Southern Tablelands on New South Wales. The Yellow-spotted Bell Frog (Litoria castanea) was once abundant until a population crash in the 70s saw them disappear.

Luke Pearce, a local fisheries conservation officer saw the frog while surveying a stream for endangered fish. He then returned with Dr David Hunter, a herpetologist, to find a thriving population. Dr Hunter confirmed the Bell Frog discovery and asserts its significance; particularly given 2010 is the United Nation's International Year of Biodiversity.

"The global decline of frogs means this discovery will attain international interest," Dr Hunter said.

Vital for the health of the planet
"Frogs are very important to biodiversity because they eat billions of insects annually, including mosquitoes, whose numbers could rise as frog numbers dramatically decline. Frogs are eaten by reptiles, fish, birds and mammals so when you start to remove them from our ecosystem the impacts are far reaching," Dr Hunter said.

Captive breeding
Since the discovery a handful of tadpoles have been captured and taken to Taronga Zoo in Sydney where they will form the basis of a longer term captive breeding program so that they can be re established across some of their former range in NSW.

The Yellow-spotted Bell Frog (Litoria castanea)
had not been seen in the wild for almost 30 years
and so many people had written the species off
as extinct. That was until Luke Pearce spotted
what he thought might be one in a small stream
on the Southern Tablelands of NSW.
Photo Dr David Hunter

The perfect storm
The Global Amphibian Assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that 30-50% of amphibians are now threatened with extinction. International scientists such as Dr Kevin Zippel have described the combined threats of loss of habitat, climate change and Chytrid fungus as the perfect storm which could lead to the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs.

"We've never seen a group like this singled out for extinction," Dr Zippel said.

In NSW, almost one quarter of frog species has been infected including 15 threatened species such as the green and golden bell frog, the corroboree frog and the spotted tree frog.

Local Member of Parliament, Steve Whan welcomed the frog's return to the Southern Tablelands. He said "This is a particularly striking frog with marbled green and gold colours on most of its body, and yellow spots on the back of its thighs. It makes a distinct call with a series of loud droning grunts which sound like a distant motorbike. This may be the last opportunity to save this species so it's important we keep the exact location a secret,"


Frogs in decline



  • The recent Global Amphibian Assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that:
    •  Nearly half of all species are dramatically declining
    • 30-50% are threatened with extinction
    • Over 120 species have become extinct in recent years
  • Amphibian Chytrid Fungus is a membrane infection that effectively suffocates frogs alive
  • Frogs have a thin permeable membrane and some scientists argue this makes them an ecological thermometer for environmental health or a modern version of a canary in a mine
  • Scientists including Sir David Attenborough joined together in 2008 - The Year of the Frog, to highlight their plight and discuss their impact on biodiversity.
  • Amphibians have been around for over 360 million years, enduring three mass extinction events including the one that eliminated the dinosaurs.




  • The IUCN has tasked zoos around the world with saving frog species in the short term until adequate conservation measures are devised to secure threatened wild populations
  • Globally there are more than 4720 species of frogs and 216 in Australia
  • In the last 30 years 7 frogs have become extinct in Australia, primarily in Queensland, and 32 are currently listed as endangered.
  • The adult frog is quite large at 55 to 90mm and the tadpoles are large, growing to about 8 cm long with a greenish body and yellowish fins.
  • The frog's habitat was traditionally the tablelands of NSW above 700 meters altitude
  • It has been found in just one small stream so an effective breeding program will be critical to its future survival



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