Four new species of small night frogs discovered in Western Ghats

SD Biju

Four out of seven of the new species are miniature-sized frogs (12.2-15.4 mm), which can comfortably sit on a coin or a thumbnail.

Four new species of miniature night frogs - considered to be among the world's smallest known frogs - have been discovered in a remote part of India.

Named after the place of discovery such as Sabarimala and Athirappilly in Kerala, the paper said they were found inside "damp tree leaf litter or marsh vegetation" - unlike night frogs that predominantly reside along streams.

The genus Nyctibatrachus (family Nyctibatrachidae) is endemic to the Western Ghats and represents an ancient group of frogs that diversified on the Indian landmass approximately 70-80 million years ago. Evidence from these multiple sources confirmed that the diversity of Night frogs is higher than previously known and particularly remarkably for the miniaturized forms.

"They were probably overlooked by researchers due to their extremely small size, secretive habitats and insect-like calls".

Over the past five years, there have been registered 14 discoveries of small night frogs, as other 14 more have been discovered in the last century.

Between 2001 and 2015, over 1,500 new species have been discovered and about 150 of them were found in the Western Ghats.

"The discovery of these new species will increase our understanding of the conservation priorities for amphibians in the region".

The tiny frogs species were likely overlooked by researchers "because of their extremely small size, secretive habitats and insect-like calls", Garg said.

While they may be abundant, their future is already looking precarious.

"Among the new species, six are now known to be geographically restricted to low and mid elevation regions south of Palghat gap in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu", the researchers said.

Prof SD Biju of the University of Delhi, who led the research, has discovered over 80 new species of amphibians from India. All were found at a single location, and several were isolated from unprotected habitats such as plantations that are readily disturbed by human activity. Similarly, Athirappilly Night frog was found in close vicinity to the Athirappilly waterfalls, a tourist spot, and Sabarimala Night frog near the pilgrimage centre by that name.

Night frogs are native to the Western Ghats mountain range, one of the world's richest biodiversity hotspots and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. "Of the seven new species, five require immediate conservation efforts", Biju said.



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