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Species of the Week: Archey’s Frog

By on August 8, 2011 in Species of the Week, Uncategorized

This frog is often described as a “living fossil” since it is almost indistinguishable from the fossilised remains of frogs that lived 150 million years ago. Archey’s frog (Leiopelma archeyi) is one of four species of prehistoric New Zealand frogs which are the most ancient and primitive frogs in the world. To give you an idea, New Zealand frogs started to evolve over 200 million years ago, which means their lineage has been evolving independently since before the Atlantic Ocean was formed and over 50 million years before the first bird appeared in the fossil record.

Archey’s frog is the smallest species of New Zealand frog and as one of the world’s most primitive frogs, it has some bizarre features. One of these features is that is possess tail-wagging muscles (despite not having a tail to wag). Another extraordinary feature it the lack of eardrums or a developed vocal sac. Because it lacks these features it cannot croak and it doesn’t communicate with sound like most frogs, instead it uses smell.  These ancient frogs have eyes with round pupils and more back bones than other frogs. New Zealand frogs swim differently to all other frogs (apart from the tailed frogs); they kick their legs alternating one at a time   which makes their heads move from side to side while they swimming.

The males of this species are dedicated parents. They guards the eggs in moist nests where tadpoles develop inside the eggs, the tailed froglets that hatch out crawl onto the father’s back where they remain for several weeks whilst they develop their adult characteristics.

Archey’s frog is number one on the EDGE amphibian priority list for conservation and Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The population of this incredible species has suffered a drastic population decline. The probable cause for this decline is a virulent fungal disease called chitridiomycosis which is threatening many amphibian populations around the world.  The species has also suffered from predation by introduced rats and other predators.

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