Scientists have discovered 14 new species of so-called dancing frogs in the jungle mountains of southern India — just in time, they fear, to watch them fade away.
Indian biologists say they found the tiny acrobatic amphibians, which earned their name with the unusual kicks they use to attract mates, declining dramatically in number during the 12 years in which they chronicled the species through morphological descriptions and molecular DNA markers. They breed after the yearly monsoon in fast-rushing streams, but their habitat appears to be becoming increasingly dry.
“It’s like a Hollywood movie, both joyful and sad. On the one hand, we have brought these beautiful frogs into public knowledge. But about 80 percent are outside protected areas, and in some places, it was as if nature itself was crying,” said the project’s lead scientist, University of Delhi professor Sathyabhama Das Biju.
Biju said that, as researchers tracked frog populations, forest soils lost moisture and perennial streams ran inexplicably dry. He acknowledged his team’s observations about forest conditions were only anecdotal; the scientists did not have time or resources to collect data demonstrating the declining habitat trends they believed they were witnessing.
The study listing the new species — published Thursday in the Ceylon Journal of Science — brings the number of known Indian dancing frog species to 24.
They’re found exclusively in the Western Ghats, a lush mountain range that stretches 1,600 kilometers (990 miles) from the western state of Maharashtra down to the country’s southern tip.
Only the males dance — it’s actually a unique breeding behavior called foot-flagging. They stretch, extend and whip their legs out to the side to draw the attention of females who might have trouble hearing mating croaks over the sound of water flowing through perennial hill streams.
They bigger the frog, the more they dance. They also use those leg extensions to smack away other males — an important feature considering the sex ratio for the amphibians is usually around 100 males to one female.
“They need to perform and prove, ‘Hey, I’m the best man for you,’” said Biju, a botanist-turned-herpetologist now celebrated as India’s “Frogman” for discovering dozens of new species in his four-decade career.
There are other dancing frogs in Central America and Southeast Asia, but the Indian family, known by the scientific name Micrixalidae, evolved separately about 85 million years ago.
Biju and his team had long been baffled about the frogs’ mating patterns, after searching years around the forest floor for egg clutches without success. But one late October day in 2011 they witnessed a rare tryst, and saw the female immediately bury her eggs once fertilized. This confirmed the frogs were indeed breeding only after stream levels had come down, and underlined how vulnerable they might be to changes in rainfall or water availability.
Written By: AP / Katy Daigle
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