A group of scientists from the Faculty of Science, University of Peradeniya have rediscovered a tiny frog species that was thought to have been lost, for nearly hundred years.

© Madhava Meegaskumbura

Pseudophilautus semiruber (Tiny-red shrub-frog) is one of the smallest frog species in the world. So far, out of the total of 5000 plus species of frogs in the world, only 46 species smaller than 15 mm are known, which are referred to as diminutive species. These species are so small that they can rest comfortably on the tip of your small finger. With the new discovery, Sri Lanka has three such extant species (P. simba and P. tanu, in addition to P. semiruber).

N. Annandale in 1911, found a 12 mm long individual, of a nondescript sex, from Pattipola, at an elevation of 1850 m above sea level. It was formerly described in 1913, using only this single specimen. For the next 95 years nobody ever saw this species again. But in 2005, a single female was discovered by Madhava Meegaskumbura and Mohomed Bahir, from amongst the wet leaf litter, under the cover of a misty montane forest canopy, from a small forest reserve (Agra-Bopath) close to the Horton Plains National Park.

© Madhava Meegaskumbura

This specimen was subjected to rigorous scrutiny, using both morphology and molecular techniques to determine its systematic relationships. Its morphology was compared to P. simba, from Rakwana Hills (Morningside Estate) and the Knuckles Forest Reserve, and to the 1913 description of Annandale. The rediscovery was announced and a new description was presented in the March 2012 issue of the journal ZOOTAXA.

The specimen described by Annandale in 1913 had been deposited in the collection of the Zoological Survey of India in Kolkata under the reference number ZSIC 17401. This specimen however was confirmed lost in 2001 and since 2005, the species has been registered as Incerte sedis (uncertain taxonomic position); and classified as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List. The specimen collected in 2005 by us now remains the only reference material available for this species.

Now that we know that this species, tethering at the edge of extinction, still survives, immediate conservation measures should be taken to save this little red frog species.

The Department of Wildlife Conservation, and Forest Department of Sri Lanka and kindly acknowledged for permission to carryout this work. Christopher J. Schneider (Boston University), James Hanken (Harvard University), Rohan Pethiyagoda (Australian Museum), Don Church (GWC), James Lewis, and Robin Moore (IUCN SSC ASG) are profusely thanked for their support.

By Madhava Meegaskumbura, Kelum Manamendra-Arachchi, Gayan Bowatte and Suyama Meegaskumbura