Decades since its last appearance and one researcher’s eight-year search, the “cave squeaker” frog has officially shown itself again.
Perhaps not as striking as the electric blue poison dart frog or as bizarre as the Surinam horned frog, this small, humble brown amphibian is on the fringe of extinction. First seen in 1962, the covert critter had not been spotted since.
“[Arthroleptis troglodytes] was prioritized as one of the top 10 southern African species in need of conservation research and its rediscovery must be considered as a high priority,” wrote Robert Hopkins, a researcher at the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe, in his report.
In 2016, Hopkins decided to give the search another shot. With support from the Mohamed bin Zayed conservation fund, a team of Zimbabwean and South African researchers began their quest for the elusive 25-millimeter (1-inch) frog.
Following the call of an unknown species, Hopkins’ team climbed the Chimanimani Mountains in eastern Zimbabwe to discover, much to their surprise, a male “cave squeaker”. They soon found three other specimens – two males and one female.
"I was not with my team when they were found,” Hopkins said. “I was at the base. I can no longer climb the mountains as I am 75.”
The “cave squeaker” moniker is derived from the species’ affinity for caves and its squeaking vocals, described as similar to that of crickets.
Interestingly, the cave squeaker undergoes direct development, whereby the embryo develops as a tadpole and hatches as a miniature adult with dark speckling. Due to its limited population and hiding prowess, little else is known about the creature.
Still, authorities are worried for the species, as the new discovery could spark interest in the frog, resulting in its capture and illegal exportation.
“We are expecting an influx of scientists looking for it,” said Caroline Washaya-Moyo, a spokeswoman for the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. “We will do everything in our power to protect and conserve the frog.”
Their plan is to breed the frog with others taken from the area and then to reintroduce them to the mountain summit.