Published: April 2009


endangered Stream Frog

The Vanishing

We are witnessing a mass extinction. An exotic fungus is delivering the fatal blow to many amphibians already hit by habitat loss, pollution, and climate change.

By Jennifer Holland
Photograph by Joel Sartore

He grips his mate, front legs clasped tight around her torso. Splayed beneath him like an open hand, she lies with her egg-heavy belly soaking in the shallow stream. They are harlequin frogs of a rare Atelopus species, still unnamed and known only in a thin wedge of the Andean foothills and adjacent Amazonian lowlands. The female appears freshly painted—a black motif on yellow, her underside shocking red. She is also dead.

Above this tableau, at the lip of the ravine, a bulldozer idles. Road construction here, near the town of Limón in southeastern Ecuador, has sent an avalanche of rocks, broken branches, and dirt down the hillside, choking part of the forest-lined stream. Luis Coloma steps gingerly over the loose rocks, inspecting the damage to the water­way. The 47-year-old herpetologist is bespec­tacled and compact in a yellow shirt dotted with tiny embroidered frogs. He hasn't bothered to roll up his khaki pants, which are soaked to the knees. Poking a stick into the debris, he says, "They have destroyed the house of the frog."

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