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Friday, December 23, 2011

Some comments on the recent discovery of the Hula painted frog in Israel (Via Herp Digest)

Some comments on the recent discovery of the Hula painted frog in Israel, some history and what to do with the Hula frogs (there are now two , one I was told they already released.) from Dr. Yehudah L. Werner/The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In the early 1950s I helped found and start the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Some years later I participated in the delegation of three that convinced the Minister of Agriculture to found the governmental nature authority (now INPA). Ever since I have been accompanying and supporting both bodies with advice (requested or spontaneous) - and, gradually, with increasing disappointment.

The Hula painted frog Discoglossus nigriventer was discovered by Dr H. Steinitz (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem - HUJ) and Dr H. Mendelssohn (The Biological Pedagogical Institute of Tel Aviv) in 1940: two specimens, 40 and 27 mm RA (rostrum-anus length) and two tadpoles. Mendelssohn wanted to observe the frogs' behavior so the larger one ate the smaller one. The remaining material was deposited in the HUJ collection. (The tadpoles were later lost in the 1948 war.) The description appeared only in 1943 (in Copeia) because Mendelssohn disliked writing. The species was encountered another time in 1955, by M. Costa ("Oranim" college). The 80 mm RA specimen was also deposited in HUJ, making it the world's only collection containing full representation of Israel's herpetofauna.

The fact that the species was encounters once in 1940, again in 1955, and never again (till now) did not seem statistically significant. The genus has secretive habits. Had never been properly searched for. In the 1980s my friend, colleague and guest Dr K Klemmer surveyed habitats in the area and mainly on the Golan, driven around by an INPA ranger and jeep. He submitted a report that several ponds looked likely but that due to the typical behavior of this genus, specific search methods were required. To my knowledge, the INPA never followed his advice. From time to time I reminded them, to no avail. I have never heard of any informed search having been made by anybody. People were hiking around, looking and hoping. That this never worked meant nothing.

Now (yesterday, 29 Nov.) another smaller individual was found at the same place, on land, hiding in grass. Related to this, reporters tell of tens of people who have been searching for decades, but it is unclear how they searched..

Meanwhile the first individual has been released and the second is also to be released promptly. The INPA rejected my advice (not "proposal") to use the frog for investigating the environmental preferences of the species, towards planning its conservation. With some investment, one could run a frog in a temperature gradient and in more innovative gradients and see its preferences for temperature depth of water, and substrate. With some caution one could also investigate its physiological responses to temperature. But INPA worries (or so they say) that the population may be so small that this would endanger it. They say this although they also say that apparently the frog recently invaded the reserve from some unknown population outside, thanks to recent improvement of water quality in the reserve. They are not specifying what they mean by water quality.

Yehudah L. Werner
Professor Emeritus of Zoology
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
91904 Jerusalem, Israel

Original article
Long thought extinct, Hula painted frog found once again in Israeli nature reserve- Rare find is akin to the Dead Sea Scrolls of nature conservation.
By Zafrir Rinat, Haaretz.com 11/21/11---Nature and Parks Authority warden Yoram Malka set out

Tuesday for a routine patrol to monitor the birds in the Hula Nature Reserve, but he was also keeping his sharp eyes peeled for a specific type of frog.

Malka had previously promised the scientists researching the reserve that he would once again locate the Hula painted frog, a species of frog that was unique to Israel and was thought to have become extinct more than 50 years ago. This week he kept his promise.

"I saw something jump that didn't look familiar," said Malka. "I rushed over and caught a frog, and when I turned it over I saw that it had a black belly with white spots, the identifying mark of the painted frog. I immediately returned [with it] to the reserve's office and took out the animal handbook, and I saw that what I had found look exactly like the painted frog that appears in the handbook."

Malka's discovery shocked conservationists and scientists who deal with this field in Israel. The Hula painted frog had been one of the primary symbols of natural extinction in Israel after it had disappeared following the drying of Lake Hula in the 1950s.

Dr. Sarig Gafni of Ruppin Academic Center's School of Marine Sciences, an expert in amphibians, was immediately summoned to the reserve, and he arrived with the original scientific paper from 1940 in which the Hula painted frog was described.

"We went through the article, sign by sign, and checked all the indicators, including the distance between the eyes, and it is indeed a Hula Painted Frog," said Gafni. "It's very exciting; to me it's like finding the Dead Sea Scrolls of nature conservation in Israel. We must remember that in the past, only three adult samples of this species had ever been found."

According to Dr. Dana Milstein, an ecologist with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the rare frog got its Hebrew name - agulashon shehor-gahon - from its black belly and round tongue, which, unlike that of other frogs, is not used to catch prey.

For years Israeli researchers have been trying to locate the frog, searching in and around every spring and streambed in the area where the Hula marshes were dried up, but without success. Thus it was assumed that the act of drying up the Hula and the destruction of other natural habitats through pollution and development had sealed the fate of this unique species.

Milstein believes that the frog's discovery is linked to environmental improvements in the Hula reserve.
"In recent years, the water quality has improved, after they started to pour water from fish ponds and nearby springs into the reserve," she said.

The IPNA's next mission is to determine whether there are more frogs aside from the one discovered, which is apparently female.

The fate of the captured frog has yet to be determined. Gafni hopes to be able to return it to the wild as quickly as possible.

To see a photo of the frog , go to http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/long-thought-extinct-hula-painted-frog-found-once-again-in-israeli-nature-reserve-1.396000#

Update: The rare frog is currently held in an artificial environment in the Hula reserve. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority will invite senior researchers in the field to contribute and to learn about this species, in order to implement the data for the benefit of conserving the specie in nature and preform more survey. In the end of the weeks to come the Israel Nature and Parks Authority will make special tours in the Hula reserve in order to display the discovery to the public. More details in the information center of The Israel Nature and Parks Authority. And they have found another one, which I have heard they have released where they found it.

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