PHOTO IN THE NEWS: Colorful Harlequin Frog Discovered

Harlequin frog picture
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March 12, 2008—With such flashy looks, this aptly named harlequin frog seems like it would be easy to spot.

But scientists hadn't seen one of its kind for 14 years, until it was "rediscovered" last month in the mountain forests of Colombia.

The rare find—technically known as a Carrikeri harlequin frog—is some welcome good news for South America's amphibian species, which have been disappearing at an alarming rate, experts say.

But for other amphibians in the region—including dozens of other harlequin frog species—the prospects remain grim, said Luis Rueda, a biologist with the nonprofit Conservation Leadership Program who led the expedition that made the find.

"The rediscovery of [the Carrikeri] is the great news, but we have spent hours trying to find other frogs, and all our efforts have been unfruitful," he said.

The greatest threat to frogs is disease, Rueda explained, namely an infectious fungus that has decimated amphibian populations worldwide.

"The [disease] is a real threat to biodiversity throughout the world," Ruena said.

The rediscovery of the Carrikeri harlequin—high in Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range—may mark the last stand for this genus of frog against the advancing epidemic, he added.

"The species of amphibians that are the most affected [by the disease] are those that live at 1,000 meters [3,280 feet] or higher in elevation," he explained.

"We found this population at 4,000 meters [13,100 feet], which can have great importance, because it could be one of the last species of this type in the highlands of Colombia.

"We consider the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta one of the sanctuaries for [this genus of frog] where there possibly is no [disease]," he added.

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