frog - Gili Eliyahu - November 17 2011
Hula painted frog. Photo by Gili Eliyahu
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Gili Eliyahu
Yoram Malka holding a Hula painted frog. Photo by Gili Eliyahu

A Nature and Parks Authority warden found a Hula painted frog on Tuesday, a species of frog that is unique to Israel and was thought to have become extinct more than 50 years ago. Hula Nature Reserve warden Yoram Malka found a similar frog in the same area two weeks ago, of the opposite gender.

“The discovery of the first frog hinted at the general area and hours of activity for this species,” Malka said. Malka invested great efforts in the last two weeks searching for other frogs of this variety.

The second Hula painted frog, a female, was found on Tuesday in swampy weeds, twenty centimeters deep, and at 13 grams weighs only half of her male counterpart. Nature and Parks Authority staff will be conducting tests in the days to come to try to learn more about the rare frogs, before they are re-released into the wild.

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.

Malka's first discovery two weeks ago 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.

"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."

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."

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.