Azuay’s Reintroduction to the Known World
The Azuay stubfoot toad has just been “rediscovered” after it was believed to have gone extinct 15 years ago. This little toad was found to be living in mountain forests in Cuenca, Ecquador. Much to the biologists delight, and relief, they were found to have been clean of chytrid. Chytrid is the fungal disease that was blamed for their perceived extinction 15 years ago.
What is Chythrid
Chythrid or ‘chythridiomycota‘ is responsible for pushing a number of amphibian species to the brink of extinction over the last quarter of a century. It is a phylum fungi and generally lives in damp or moist environments. Most chythrids feed on rotting matter while others are parasites that generally live on plants or invertebrates. In 1999 a new strain of Chythrid was discovered that infected the skin of amphibians. It is also the only Cythrid to infect a vertebrate animal. Not only this but this strain of Chythrid has been dubbed as the following.
“The worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates in terms of the number of species impacted, and it’s propensity to drive them to extinction.”
Chythrid kills amphibians by toughening their skin. Amphibians drink and absorb salts through their skin. By toughening their porous skin they can no longer regulate their salt and water levels. They don’t any alternative because they can’t absorb or ingest these salts orally. Eventually this will destroy the amphibian’s internal organs. There are other amphibians that are lung-less, like the salamander. A salamander breathes through his porous and moist skin and would suffocate if it was infected by Chythrid.
Azuay Toad and it’s Continued Survival
The discovery was made thanks to the combined efforts of three independent teams of scientists. After an exhaustive search of the toad’s known habitat in 2002 bore no fruit it was decided that the species had gone extinct. Now that the Azuay toad has been found to be alive and well again, it still doesn’t mean that their survival is assured. Azuay toads breed quite slowly and can be quite stubborn about it. The process takes place in a stream and can take up to a month to complete. Upon completion the female can release over 200 eggs. Aside from the plight of chythrid, the offspring have their own problems. Predators are their biggest worry as a trout can eat the entire batch in one go.
Rediscovering the Azuay has given scientists one more chance to try to save this species. However after the significant blow the species has suffered it will be some time before it makes a recovery. They have a stubborn temperament in terms of breeding. This will result in a much slower recovery. It will be a delicate and expensive process to bring them back from the brink of extinction.