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Hula painted frog
The Hula painted frog (Latonia nigriventer) is an amphibian and the only living member of the genus Latonia. It was thought to be extinct as a result of habitat destruction during the 1950s until the species was rediscovered in 2011. It is endemic to the Lake Hula marshes in Israel.
The draining of Lake Hula and its marshes in the 1950s was thought to have caused the extinction of this frog, along with the cyprinid fish Acanthobrama hulensis and cichlid fish Tristramella intermedia. Only five individuals had been found prior to the draining of the lake. Environmental improvements in the Hula reserve have been cited as a possible reason for the frog's reemergence.
The Hula painted frog has a dark belly with small white spots. It is colored ochre above with a rusty colour grading into dark olive-grey to greyish-black on the sides. Differences from the common painted frog (Discoglossus pictus) include its greater interocular distance, longer forelimbs, and a less projecting snout. The type specimen was an adult female with a body length of 40 millimetres (1.6 in)
Little is known about its history, because few specimens have been found by scientists. Two adults and two tadpoles were collected in 1940 and a single specimen was found in 1955. This would prove to be the last record of this species until 2011.
The four 1940 specimens were to be used as types, but the smaller, half-grown frog was eaten by the larger one in captivity. The latter eventually became the holotype (HUJZ Amphib. Discogl. 1) for the species' description and this or the individual collected in 1955 apparently is the only material remains of the species known today; the two tadpole paratypes (HUJZ Amphib. Discogl. 2 and 2a) appear to have been lost.
According to an ecologist of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the frog's Hebrew name, agulashon shehor-gahon (Black-bellied round-tongued), derives from its black belly and round tongue. The scientific name of the species reflects these details as well. Unlike the tongues of other frogs, it is not used to catch prey.
This frog was originally proposed to be a member of the genus Discoglossus, but further genetic and morphological assessment after the rediscovery of the species led to a reassignment to Latonia, for which no other living examples are known. Other members of Latonia are known from the fossil record to have lived as recently as ~15,000 years ago. However, based on phylogenetic analysis, it was estimated that the last common ancestor of Latonia and its closest related genus, Discoglossus, lived approximately 32 million years ago. On this basis, the Hula painted frog has been labeled a living fossil, the only extant representative of an ancient genetic split.
In 1996, the IUCN classified this species as "extinct in the wild", the very first amphibian to be given that designation by the IUCN. Israel continued to list it as an endangered species in the slim hope that a relict population may be found in the Golan Heights or in southern Lebanon. Following the rediscovery of the species in 2011, the IUCN now considers the frog to be critically endangered as its known habitat occupies less than 2 km2.
In 2000, a scientist from the Lebanese nature protection organisation A Rocha claimed he had seen a frog species which could be Latonia nigriventer in the Aammiq Wetland south of the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. Two French-Lebanese-British expeditions in the years 2004 and 2005 yielded no confirmation as to the further existence of this species. In August 2010, a search organised by the Amphibian Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature set out to look for various species of frogs thought to be extinct in the wild, including the Hula painted frog.
In 2013, a study published in Nature Communications revealed that in 2011 during a routine patrol at the Hula Nature Reserve, ranger Yoram Malka found the frog, which he immediately suspected as being the Hula Painted Frog, as he claimed he has been on the lookout for it for many years. Scientists confirmed that it was one of this rare species. An ecologist with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority credited the rehydration of the area for the frog sighting. On November 29, a second specimen was located in the same area. The second Hula painted frog, a female, was found in swampy weeds twenty centimeters deep. It weighed 13 grams, half the weight of its male counterpart. Since the discovery of the first specimen, at least ten more individuals have been found, all in the same area.
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