Protecting Kermit: Is a species we just discovered already at risk?

Image by Edwin Bellota | flickr.com

Image by Edwin Bellota | flickr.com

The world was astounded to discover that the newly discovered frog found in Costa Rica (Diane's Bare-hearted glass frog; Hyalinobatrachium dianaei) bears an uncanny resemblance to Kermit the Frog, the lovable Muppets character.  With its green body, large eyes, and black horizontal pupils, all that’s missing is Kermit’s charming voice.  But unlike Kermit, the Bare-hearted frog's underside is see-through. While it is largely unknown why the underside of its body is translucent, it is known that the green body colour helps this species to hide from predators by stationing themselves under leaves during the daytime.

While much more research is required to understand the frog’s unique physiological characteristics, such efforts may be dampened by environmental troubles in the mountainous forest ecosystems that they live in.  Not only is there a high rate of deforestation, but the area is also impacted by invasive chytrid fungi, notably Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which is deadly to many amphibians.  

This destructive fungus isn’t unique to Costa Rica.  A recent study shows that the fungus has been active in Madagascar since 2010, where 7% of world's frog species that exist only in this country (known as endemic species) are particularly at risk of extinction. Elsewhere, in Panama, at least 30 frog species have disappeared from a single forest in only one year. Although the frogs are quickly disappearing due to this invasive fungus, it is fortunate that this new species of frog species was discovered at a time when many others have either gone extinct or come very close to extinction.

Currently, researchers are looking for solutions to lessen the ecological impacts of this problematic fungus. One idea is to develop treatment involving frog skin bacteria. Other researchers are working to establish frog breeding programs to try to prevent certain at-risk frog species from disappearing.

While deforestation is considered a more well-known issue to the public, the threats posed by invasive species are probably less obvious.  Therefore, it is important to inform citizens around the world about the possible ways that wildlife can disappear.  By getting these messages out into the public, audiences will have the chance to be more attentive when it comes to global at-risk wildlife, such as our good friend, Kermit.