Blink and you'll miss him … he could soon be extinct
Yet a range of amphibians short on aesthetic appeal but long on biological curiosities are being championed by conservationists concerned about their dwindling numbers.
The Zoological Society of London will today launch a fundraising initiative to protect an array of species ranging from six-feet-long salamanders to a frog the size of a drawing pin to a limbless, tentacled amphibian.
The Edge (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) scheme will focus on ten of the most threatened amphibians, and scientists are hoping that their strangeness will encourage people to make donations.
The ten include the Chinese giant salamander, which grows up to 1.8 metres long, a limbless amphibian called sagalla caecilian which has sensory tentacles on the sides of its head, and lungless salamanders from Mexico, which breathe through their skin and mouth lining.
Also among the targeted species are the purple frog, which was only discovered in 2003 and which spends much of its time buried up to four metres underground; the Malagasy rainbow frog, which can climb vertical rock faces; and the Gardiner's Seychelles frog which grows to just 11mm in length.
The scientists will also work to protect the ghost frogs of South Africa – one species of which is found only in the burial grounds of Skeleton Gorge on Table Mountain – and the Chilean Darwin's frog, which may already be extinct.
Also in the list of weird and wonderful amphibians are the Betic midwife toad, whose males carry fertilised eggs wrapped round their hind legs, and the olm, a blind, transparent-skinned salamander which lives underground, hunts by smell and electrosensitivity, and can survive without food for 10 years.
Helen Meredith, co-ordinator of the Edge scheme, said: "These animals may not be cute and cuddly, but hopefully their weird looks and bizarre behaviours will inspire people to support their conservation.
"The Edge amphibians are amongst the most remarkable and unusual species on the planet and yet an alarming 85 per cent of the top 100 are receiving little or no conservation attention and will become extinct if action is not taken now."
Jonathan Baillie, head of the Edge programme, added: "Amphibians tend to be the overlooked members of the animal kingdom, even though one in every three amphibian species is currently threatened with extinction, a far higher proportion than bird or mammal species.
"These species are the 'canaries in the coalmine' – they are highly sensitive to factors such as climate change and pollution, which lead to extinction, and are a stark warning of things to come.
"If we lose them, then other species will inevitably follow.
"The Edge programme strives to protect the world's forgotten species and ensure that the weirdest species survive the current extinction crisis and astound future generations."
CHINESE GIANT SALAMANDER
CAPABLE of growing up to 1.8 metres long, the species is the largest living amphibian known today and can live for up to 80 years. They have poor eyesight and use sensory nodes on their head and body to detect minute changes in water pressure, allowing them to detect prey even at night.
MALAGASY RAINBOW FROG
FOUND in Madagascar, one of the world's most frog-rich regions, deforestation and pollution has put the future of this species in jeopardy. It is revered by scientists for its rich, vibrant colours. It makes its home in an arid sandstone region in the south of the country.
GARDINER'S SEYCHELLES FROG
ENDEMIC to the Seychelles, this threatened species, above, has proved elusive due to its size. One of the smallest frogs in the world, newly hatched offspring measure just three millimetres in length, while adults tend not to grow much larger, with the average length found to be just 11mm. The frogs are brown in colour, with a dark stripe running from the mouth down to the legs. They are deemed vulnerable as they are only found in a few localities.
LIMBLESS amphibian, native to a hilly region of south-eastern Kenya, it boasts sensory tentacles on the sides of its head to locate food, such as leaf litter. Precise numbers are unknown but it is classified as critically endangered.
NUMBERS of this species, native to Chile and Argentina, are perilously low at best – it could already be extinct. It was discovered by Charles Darwin, and is notable for its reproductive process, during which the male keeps the eggs in his vocal sac for protection.
THE blind amphibian makes its home in the waters that flow underground through extensive limestone regions of southern Europe, such as the waters of the Soca river basin near Trieste in Italy. While blind, its other senses are acutely developed. It can survive without food for ten years.
BETIC MIDWIFE TOAD
ENDEMIC to the mountains of south-eastern Spain, the Betic midwife toad's natural home is in temperate forests, freshwater marshes, pastureland and ponds. Its habitat is threatened by agriculture and groundwater extraction.
NATIVE to mountainous parts of South Africa, ghost frogs live in streams and grow up to just six centimetres in length. One species is found only in the traditional human burial grounds of Skeleton Gorge in the country's Table Mountain region.
FOUND in an isolated hill range in south-eastern Mexico, these salamanders breathe through their skin and the tissues that line their mouth. They also have elaborate courtship rituals. In appearance, they resemble slender lizards, but in fact they have slimy skin and no scales.
DISCOVERED only in 2003 in western India, the purple frog lives up to four metres underground, surfacing only for two weeks each year to mate. Purple in colour, with a pointy snout, its head appears to be too small for its body.