October 23, 2022


A Cry From A Fading Rainbow

They are small, slimy and come in all colours of the rainbow: Harlequin toads inhabit the rainforests of South and Central America. They are considered an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. But how healthy is the rainforest ecosystem? After all, 83 % of the 94 known species are threatened with extinction.

By Stefanie Rach

“Together with some of my siblings, I find myself in a strange cave. The surface on which I am sitting is smooth. Light falls through the cave wall – how weird. There are no leaves here, no insects. What is going on? One of the giants is carrying our cave, so everything sways a little. But then he sets us down and opens the cave. A breeze flows in, bringing with it the smell of forest and water. The air is pleasantly warm and humid. The scent of damp leaves beckons me. I hop out of the strange, smooth cave to explore this wonderfully wild landscape. My siblings follow me. Sunlight falls diffusely through the foliage of huge trees. Under my toes I feel the soggy moss that grows on one of the tree roots. I hear the murmur of a creek close by. Ribbiting contentedly, I hop in the direction of the flowing water. Better get away quickly before I am put back in the cave!”

“It’s days like this that make me proud of my work. My team has managed to breed the endangered Harlequin toad. Many factors have led to the severe decimation of the populations: habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, the introduction of invasive species, the fungus that caused the deadly chytrid disease in amphibians worldwide back in the 80s. This fungus still troubles us scientists: We now know that global warming increases the spread of the fungus. It seems that some toad species are more resistant to the fungus than others. I am investigating possible reasons for this.

And that is exactly why I am out today with several boxes where the Harlequin toads we have bred are sitting and waiting to be released. We have marked them so that we can find them again in the wild and collect data. I open the lid of another box and out hops a particularly cheeky toad. Like its siblings, it is bright orange with black spots. Harlequin toads owe their name to their blaze of colour. There are yellow species, green, purple, red. But unfortunately, this is exactly why they are illegally traded as pets – which can even lead to a greater spread of the fungus.”

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