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Trio of previously unknown amphibian species discovered on Colombian frog-finding expedition

November 22, 2010 |  8:54 pm

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Scientists' search for a toad that hasn't been seen since the early part of the 20th century was unsuccessful but turned out to be fruitful anyway.

Researchers looking for the elusive Mesopotamia beaked toad -- the last documented sighting of which was in Colombia in 1914 -- didn't find what they were looking for, but they did discover two toad species and a frog species that they believe are entirely new to science.

The "new" species include a beaked toad in the genus Rhinella, above left; a red-eyed toad of an as-yet-undetermined genus, center; and rocket frog of the genus Silverstoneia, right.

The expedition to find the Mesopotamia beaked toad in Colombia is part of a larger effort called the Search for the Lost Frogs Campaign, spearheaded by Conservation International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which continues through the end of this year.

In addition to finding the previously unknown species, the Lost Frogs campaign has also been responsible for finding three of the "lost" species it initially set out to find. They include the cave splayfoot salamander, a pink-footed amphibian that hadn't been seen since 1941, in Mexico; the Mount Nimba reed frog, the last reported sighting of which was in 1967, in the Ivory Coast; and the Omaniundu reed frog, last seen in 1979, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

See more photos of the "new" species after the jump.

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Above, the newly discovered beaked toad in the genus Rhinella is described as "easily one of the strangest amphibians I have ever seen" by Dr. Robin Moore, an amphibian specialist with Conservation International who led the expedition. "Its long, pointy, snout-like nose reminds me of the nefarious villain Mr. Burns from 'The Simpsons' television series."

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You can almost hear it saying, "Excellent, Smithers," can't you? So can longtime "Simpsons" writer and producer George Meyer, who just so happens to have a soft spot for amphibians and serves on Conservation International's Chairman's Council. Meyer said in a statement that he thinks "[t]he toad's imperious profile and squinty eyes indeed look like Monty Burns."

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But the beaked toad has much more to offer scientists than mere opportunities to make pop-culture cartoon references. It has other interesting traits as well, notably the fact that it probably bypasses the tadpole stage entirely. The research team believes that adult specimens lay eggs on the forest floor, which hatch into tiny toads rather than tadpoles. Two individuals, neither of which measured more than 2 centimeters in length, were found by the team.

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Above, another of the three "new" amphibian species, a rocket frog from the genus Silverstoneia. The frog is small -- the scientific team believes that it doesn't grow to be more than 3 centimeters long -- and lives in and near streams. It's a type of poison dart frog, but the researchers say it is less poisonous than its more vividly colored cousins.

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The research team reports that the toad above, a member of an as-yet-undetermined genus, has them baffled. It was discovered on the forest floor at an altitude of more than 6,500 feet. It measures about 3 to 4 centimenters in length, and its most unusual features, of course, are its unusually colored eyes.

"I have never seen a toad with such vibrant red eyes," Moore said. "This trait is highly unusual for amphibians, and its discovery offers us a terrific opportunity to learn more about how and why it adapted this way."

RELATED ANIMAL DISCOVERIES:
200 species new to science are found in Papua New Guinea
Species of titi monkey found in Colombia is new to science -- and in danger of extinction

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photos: Robin Moore / iLCP

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