With scientists revealing that dozens of animal species become extinct every day, sometimes the occasional life form is able to fight the odds. Case in point is the starry night harlequin toad, which has been rediscovered on the slope of a Colombian mountain after years of being off the biological radar.
Biological anthropologists say they hadn't seen this black toad adorned with white spots that gave the amphibian its name since 1991. However, folks in the indigenous Arhuaco tribe that resides by Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta regularly saw the toad hopping around its mountainous surroundings.
It wasn't until members of the indigenous community got together with scientists at Global White Conservation that they discovered the species never vanished in the first place. Researchers previous thought that the toad, given the scientific tag Atelopus aryescue, was killed off by the notorious chytrid fungus, which has endangered other wildlife worldwide, but particularly in South America.
Cited as the world's deadliest disease, it reportedly kills animals in contact with the fungus remarkably fast by compromising its respiration system, which triggers fatal heart attacks. It turns out that the starry night toad managed to sidestep the pathogen, although many members of its harlequin family haven't been so lucky.
At one point, scientists determined there were as many as 96 species of harlequin toads, a number that has since shrunk to 59. How the starry night breed was able to survive exposure to the fungus remains a mystery, although one theory has it that the toad might have a microbe built into its immunity system.
Another school of thought over why the toad had disappeared and then showed up again is that scientists might have simply overlooked it. The starry night was found at an elevation of 6,500 feet of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which at nearly 19,000 feet high is the world's tallest coastal peak. That's a lot of altitude to consider, especially considering the toad wasn't found at any other elevation on the mountain.
But researchers especially credit the Arhuaco community for keeping a watchful eye on the starry night as well as other wildlife on the mountain. Renowned for prioritizing environmental protection above all other concerns, the locals shied away from clear-cutting the foliage or getting into massive agricultural practices, preferring a self-sustaining approach to living near the mountain.