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  • Atelopus Survival Initiative

New 100th Harlequin Toad Species Named After Ancient Culture Already Faces Imminent Extinction

Updated: Jun 13

First sighted in the Colombian cloud forests during the 1970s, a mysterious harlequin toad has finally been acknowledged as a distinct species.

Colombian and German researchers, part of the Atelopus Survival Initiative (ASI), have officially described Atelopus calima, marking the 100th species of the genus in a publication in the Salamandra journal. The new species was named after the ancient Calima people, who lived in the region where the species is found, and whose cultural heritage often intertwined with depictions of frogs in their intricate goldwork and pottery.

Despite being first documented decades ago, Atelopus calima remains elusive, with only 10 individuals known to science and housed in scientific collections. Its absence from the wild since 1994 has led experts to classify it as Possibly Extinct, and it will be listed as Critically Endangered by the Amphibian Red List Authority of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Amphibian Specialist Group.

Only 10 specimens, all deposited in scientific collections, are known to date - but there is hope that other individuals will one day be found in the wild.

Yotoco, the once-thriving cloud forest habitat of Atelopus calima, has suffered from deforestation and habitat fragmentation, resulting in limited remaining habitat for species like harlequin toads. This habitat loss is exacerbated by the presence of the lethal chytrid fungus, posing a significant threat to any remaining amphibian populations.

The authors of the study stress the urgent need for conservation efforts, not only for the new species but for all harlequin toads. These remarkable amphibians, renowned for their vibrant colors and cultural significance, face a grave threat, with over 80% of their 100 species at risk of extinction.

In this context, ASI stands as a beacon of hope in the fight against harlequin toad extinction. Comprising researchers, conservationists, donors, zoos, small grassroots organizations, local communities, and government agencies across Central and South America, ASI is dedicated to safeguarding species like Atelopus calima. Through collaborative efforts, including field research, captive breeding programs, habitat restoration, and public education, ASI strives to ensure the survival of these magnificent amphibians for generations to come.

Stefan Lötters (left), Amadeus Plewnia (center) and David Velásquez-Trujillo (right) are some of the authors who described Atelopus calima.

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