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Horned Marsupial Frog - Gastrotheca cornuta
Horned Marsupial Frog - Gastrotheca cornuta

[Image: Horned-marsupial-frog.jpg]

Scientific classification
Kingdom:  Animalia
Phylum:  Chordata
Order:  Anura
Family:  Hemiphractidae
Genus:  Gastrotheca
Species:  Gastrotheca cornuta  (Boulenger, 1898)

The horned marsupial frog (Gastrotheca cornuta), is a species of frog in the family Hemiphractidae. It is an arboreal species found in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama. Its natural habitats are tropical moist lowland forests and montane cloud forests. It is threatened by habitat loss.

[Image: Horned-marsupial-frog-head-detail.jpg]

An adult Gastrotheca cornuta grows to about 7 to 8 centimetres (2.8 to 3.1 in) long. The head is broad and the snout is rounded when viewed from above. The iris of the eye is bronze with a greenish center and the upper eyelid has a triangular peak. The skin on the back is smooth and has a number of transverse ridges. The fingers are unwebbed but have circular pads on their tips. The hind legs are long and the toes are partially webbed. The female has a pouch on her lower back in which she broods her eggs. The body color is pale brown at night but dark brown by day and there are pale markings between the mouth and eyes during the day. Permanent color features include narrow dark transverse stripes on the body, a dark line running from near the eye to the groin and a pinkish or light brown belly.

Gastrotheca cornuta is a nocturnal species and is found in tropical forests and lower montane cloud forests in Limón Province, Costa Rica, and in adjoining areas of Panama on the Atlantic slope at altitudes between 300 and 700 metres (980 and 2,300 ft). In Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama it occurs on the Pacific side of the divide at altitudes between 90 and 1,000 metres (300 and 3,280 ft) above sea level. It lives high in the forest canopy.

Life cycle
The male Gastrotheca cornuta calls from high in the canopy to attract a mate. His call sounds like a champagne cork being drawn. The eggs of Gastrotheca cornuta are the largest known amphibian eggs. They are carried in individual chambers in the female's brood pouch. The developing embryos have umbrella-like external gills that spread out against the pouch wall, which is highly vascular. Gas exchange takes place through the wall of the pouch. There is no free-living tadpole stage for this species and when their development is complete, tiny froglets make their way out of the brood pouch.

[Image: Horned-marsupial-frog-female-with-eggs.jpg]

Gastrotheca cornuta is listed as "Endangered" in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Numbers of individuals across its range have been decreasing and it is no longer present in Costa Rica and Panama on the Atlantic slope. It has also decreased in numbers in Colombia and in Ecuador where it never was common. Its status in eastern Panama is unknown. The reasons for its decline include the disease chytridiomycosis, deforestation, and human activities.

Once thought extinct, bizarre horned frog reappears in Ecuador
This strange frog, which incubates eggs on its back, disappeared for more than a decade before being rediscovered.


UNSEEN FOR MORE than a decade, the enigmatic and endangered horned marsupial frog has reappeared in an Ecuadorian forest, to biologists’ delight.

The frog’s looks are striking: It has horn-like skin flaps above its eyes and irises of gold. But this nocturnal tree-dweller is best known for its bizarre reproduction, which recalls a kangaroo’s. Eggs develop in a pouch on the mother’s back, and they hatch out as fully formed froglets rather than tadpoles. 

A team of biologists discovered the frog while exploring a remote part of the Chocó region in western Ecuador, just outside the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. The biologists, from the conservation and ecotour group Tropical Herping, heard frog calls they didn’t recognize, and turned their flashlights on the palm leaves.

When they finally spied the noise-maker by its shining eyes and realized it was Gastrotheca cornuta, the horned marsupial frog, “we were so excited we started jumping up and down,” says team member Sebastian Di Domenico. They were able to collect four individuals, including a pregnant female, suggesting a stable population in a rare patch of healthy forest.

Ecuador is a known hotspot for amphibian biodiversity: At least 589 species live within its borders (with new discoveries reported each year), and 45 percent of those are endemic, meaning they’re found nowhere else.

Yet these animals are in danger, because the country has the highest rate of deforestation in South America, losing around two percent per year (closer to three percent in the South), according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Ecuador is now the second largest exporter of palm oil in Latin America, and commercial ventures such as agriculture, roads, oil palm, cacao and banana plantations, and drilling and mining operations are expanding.

“Finding a rare or presumed-extinct frog like G. cornuta is surprising and encouraging,” says Luis Coloma, who directs Centro Jambatu, an amphibian research and conservation organization based in Quito. He notes that at least five other marsupial-frog species of Ecuador “have not been sighted for more than three decades.”

“These are survivors of the relatively new and highly dangerous threats of climate change and pathogens like the deadly chytrid fungus, plus the traditional threats like habitat loss,” he says. But their continued persistence, he adds, is far from assured.

Protective measures

Ecuador has a relatively robust federal reserve system that theoretically protects at least 20 percent of its land area from deforestation and development. But conservationists say enforcement can be lax, and logging continues apace inside park boundaries. In response, a handful of organizations working in the Chocó are now buying acreage just outside reserve borders, replanting logged areas, and bringing in ecotourism to help foot the bill.

While not itself a complete solution, as the land purchases are often small, “it’s an effective way to fill in the gaps and create a buffer against development,” says Martin Schaefer, director of Foundation Jocotoco, which has so far bought 53,000 acres including G. cornuta’s immediate home. Anyone can donate; $200 buys an acre, which will be matched by the foundation.

Of course, not all local landowners are concerned about declining frogs or disappearing forests. “Some are just doing what they need to do to survive, which may mean selling to a logging company,” says Di Domenico. But some are willing to join the conservation effort. “I’ve seen firsthand that when local communities get involved in protecting a species, people gain a sense of identity and connection with those animals. They start to care,” he says.

When leading ecotours through these landscapes, “we try to spread the message,” he says, “that biodiversity has a value that people can exploit in a good way, without destroying it.”

Officially known as the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena ecoregion, bound to the east by the Andes and stretching up through Colombia into Panama and down a tad into northwestern Peru, the area that G. cornuta makes home contains Ecuador’s most pristine remaining lowland rainforests—some of the most threatened in the world—and boasts rare top predators such as jaguars. “The Chocó is almost as biodiverse as the Amazon, but it is poorly explored and disappearing fast,” Di Domenico says.

Which is why some biologists want it made a conservation priority. Says Jocotoco’s Martin Schaefer, “If we want to save the Chocó and its wildlife, including this rare frog, the time is now.”
[Image: wildcat10-CougarHuntingDeer.jpg]
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