Something to be thankful for: Some nearly extinct species are quietly springing back.

Science News celebrates a potential (and fragile) recovery – that might have far-reaching implications – with observations that several species of harlequin frogs, thought to have gone extinct in the 1980s, still have a breeding population:

For [Michigan State University conservation biologist Kyle] Jaynes, the path to uncovering how many harlequin frogs have returned from the brink of extinction started when he heard about the Jambato harlequin frog (Atelopus ignescens). This black and orange frog was once so widespread in the Ecuadorian Andes that its common name comes from the word ”jampatu,” which means “frog” in Kichwa, the Indigenous language of the area.

Then came the fungus. From 1988 to 1989, the frogs “just completely disappeared,” Jaynes says. For years, people searched for traces of the frogs. Scientists ran extensive surveys, and pastors offered rewards to their congregants for anyone that could find one.

Then in 2016, a boy discovered a small population of Jambato frogs in a mountain valley in Ecuador. For a species that had been missing for decades, “it seemed like a miracle,” says Luis Coloma, a researcher and conservationist at the Centro Jambatu de Investigación y Conservación de Anfibios in Quito, Ecuador.

Coloma runs a breeding program for Jambato and other Ecuadorian frogs threatened with extinction. In 2019, Jaynes was part of a group of researchers visiting Coloma’s lab to see if they could work out how these frogs had cheated death. After the Jambato frogs returned to the scene, the team started hearing about other missing harlequin species being spotted for the first time in years.

Those stories led Jaynes, Coloma and their colleagues to comb through reports to see just how many harlequin frogs had reappeared. Of the more than 80 species to have gone missing since 1950, as many as 32 species were spotted in the last two decades — a much higher number than the team had expected.

“I think we were all shocked,” Jaynes says.

You can read more of Jaynes and Coloma’s research here, in Biological Conservation.