December 4, 2018: There is nothing more rewarding than learning that a species considered extinct has somehow managed to survive against formidable odds. The horned marsupial frog (Gastrotheca cornuta) is one such species.
Horned marsupial frogs are unique among amphibians. Named for the leaf-like horns on the top of their head and the pouch on the female’s back for gestating tadpoles, these arboreal frogs live in the rainforest canopy. During the mating season, the male’s call sounding like the pop of a champagne cork resonates through the rainforest.
Males fertilize eggs externally and place them safely in the female’s pouch. Here the developing tadpoles, with umbrella-like gills, eventually emerge as tiny frogs. Unlike other amphibians, horned marsupial tadpoles never have a free-swimming phase.
Horned Marsupial Frogs Defy the Odds
Once having ranged from Costa Rica to Ecuador, their numbers have steadily dwindled as their habitat has been polluted and destroyed by commercial interests. After not being seen in Ecuador since 2005, this reclusive amphibian was presumed to have succumbed to deforestation, the lethal chytrid fungus, agricultural pesticides, and crop fumigation.
It turns out that we haven’t lost them yet. A small population of horned marsupial frogs was able to survive in a remote area of the Choco rainforest. A team of scientists recently discovered six individuals and heard more vocalizing on a parcel of land SavingSpecies helped our local partner acquire earlier this year. As the research continues, we hope to learn more about these survivors. We also look forward to more discoveries of other isolated species taking refuge here.
Protecting Ecuador’s Chocó Rainforest
The property is now protected as part of our broader vision to prevent large-scale commercial logging and oil palm plantations from intruding farther into what remains of this richly diverse tropical forest.
Western Ecuador ranks among the most threatened biodiversity hotspots in the world. Within this region, the most threatened habitat is the lowland Chocó rainforest. This unique area closely rivals the Amazon in terms of overall biodiversity, but far surpasses it in terms of endemism. In fact, it has more endemic birds than any other region in the world. It also harbors more than 2,250 endemic species of plants.
The Ecuadorian Chocó is also facing the highest rate of deforestation in the country. In fact, it has already lost nearly 98 percent of the original forest.
We are currently developing an ambitious strategy to establish a mosaic of strictly protected reserves by building wildlife corridors that connect, protect, and restore disjointed forests.
Click here to read more about our vision for the Chocó rainforest and our goals for our current project.
Photo of horned marsupial frog courtesy of JocoToco Foundation