Saturday, March 09, 2013

Starry, Starry Frog

The starry frog, named for the spots on its back, was found in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1853.  Naturalist Edward Keleert took a specimen home to Europe and did the appropriate scientific writeup of Pseudophilautus stellatus. But then something funny - yet hardly unprecedented - happened.  The frog disappeared.  No one saw a starry frog for 160 years.  Was it extinct? A reasonable assumption, especially given that, during a lot of this period, the IUCN rule to classify an animal extinct was that it hadn't been seen in 50 years. The newer rule, "When there is no reasonable doubt the last individual has died" - really didn't make the starry frog look in any better shape.
And yet, when conservationists probed the most inaccessible, rarely visited areas of the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary on the island nation and looked up, there in the canopy were frogs, A new species, they originally thought.  No. As L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe wrote in the formal paper reintroducing the frog to the world,  “These quite stunning frogs were observed perched on leaves in the canopy. They were slow moving, we collected samples which we thought were new species. But after reviewing past work, [especially] extinct species, it was evident that this was Pseudophilautus stellatus."
One frog may not be a huge deal when we search for endangered and unknown amphibians.  But it's not every day you hop back into the spotlight after a century and a half.   And it's one more example of how determined scientists keep finding the rare, the unknown, and the missing when they probe the still-wild areas of the world.

No comments: