News

Fascinating New Frogs

Scientists have discovered a dozen new frog species in India

September 21, 2011
SATHYABHAMA DAS BIJU—SYSTEMATICS LAB, DELHI UNIVERSITY/AP

The Wayanad night frog grows to the size of a baseball.

After years of sitting quietly in dark and damp tropical forests, shining flashlights under rocks and across riverbeds, and listening carefully for frog calls in the night, a team of Indian scientists have something to croak about. They confirmed the existence of 12 new kinds of night frog by description, as well as genetics.

The new species include three particularly interesting frogs. The first, the meowing night frog, has a croak that sounds like the call a cat would make. The second, the jog night frog, is the only known species of frog whose males and females both watch over the eggs. The third frog, the Wayanad night frog, grows to the size of a baseball. "It's almost like a monster in the forest floor, a huge animal for a frog, leaping from one rock to another," says the project's lead scientist, Sathyabhama Das Biju of the University of Delhi.

The meowing night frog of the Western Ghats has a croak that sounds like a cat’s call.
SATHYABHAMA DAS BIJU—SYSTEMATICS LAB, DELHI UNIVERSITY/AP
The meowing night frog of the Western Ghats has a croak that sounds like a cat’s call.

Discovering Amphibians Again

Beyond the 12 new species of frog, the team also rediscovered three known species. One of them, the Coorg night frog, was originally described 91 years ago. But scientists had ignored them for some time because they thought the animal was already extinct.

The discoveries raise the known number of frog types in India to 336. Biju, who is credited with discovering dozens of new Indian frog species during his 35-year career, estimated that this total is only about half of what is in the wild. He noted that none of India's amphibians are yet being studied for biological compounds that could be of further use in science.

“We first have to find the species, know them and protect them, so that we can study them for their clinical importance,” Biju says.

Conservation Concerns

Night frogs are extremely hard to find. They come out only at dark and during the monsoon season and live in either fast-flowing streams or on moist forest ground. The team hopes their intrepid efforts will bring better exposure to India's amphibians and their role in gauging the health of the environment.

The jog night frog is the only known type of frog where both the males and females watch over the eggs.
SATHYABHAMA DAS BIJU—SYSTEMATICS LAB, DELHI UNIVERSITY/AP
The jog night frog is the only known type of frog where both the males and females watch over the eggs.

Frogs are extremely important indicators not just of climate change, but also pollutants in the environment," says Biju.

According to the Global Wildlife Conservation, 32 percent of the world's known amphibian species are threatened with extinction. The threat is  mostly a result of habitat loss or pollution.

Many of the newly found frogs in India are rare and live in only one area. For these reasons, they will need rigorous habitat protection, explains Biju.

Unfortunately, conservation in India has basically focused on the two most charismatic animals — the elephant and the tiger. For amphibians there is “little interest, little funding, and frog research is not easy."


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