Black Microhylid Frog
(Melanobatrachus indicus)
With no close relatives in its subfamily, this species is quite literally one-of-a-kind. Its closest relatives are the three species of the Hoplophryninae subfamily of the narrow-mouthed frogs, which are commonly referred to as the banana frogs and Amani forest frog of Tanzania, Africa. These were geographically isolated from the black microhylid frog by continental drift over the last 140 million years. Unusually, this species of narrow-mouthed frog does not favour communication by sound, and the male does not possess a vocal sac. Much work needs to be done to reveal the ecology of this species as it has seldom been studied since its rediscovery in 1997.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Establish a monitoring programme in its three known protected areas in India. Provide amphibian survey training to staff.
Southern Western Ghats, India.
The tongue can be protracted through a lateral arc in the frontal plane i.e. the tongue can be aimed from side to side independently of head and jaw movements.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Anura
Family: Microhylidae
The Microhylidae (the “narrow-mouthed frogs”) are one of the most recently evolved families of frogs and, with a total of over 400 species, are also the largest with the greatest number of genera (nearly 50). They are a very large and diverse family of frogs, widely distributed throughout the tropics. They include both burrowing / terrestrial (ground-dwelling) and arboreal (tree-dwelling) species.

The narrow-mouthed frogs diverged from all other amphibians about 80 million years ago. The subfamily Melanobatrachinae (the “black microhylid frogs”) is possibly the oldest sub family within the narrow-mouthed frog family, and contains only a single species, the black microhylid frog. The “black microhylid frogs” separated from the rest of the microhylids just under 80 million years ago, which is about 60 million years before the Madagascar-Seychelles-Indian continent rifted from a prehistoric land mass called Gondwanaland. At the time of breaking away, the Madagascar-Seychelles-Indian continent contained the ancestors of the narrow-mouthed frogs that are now found in India. During this period of continental drift, the Madagascar-Seychelles-Indian land mass started to break apart, with Madagascar splitting away 100 million years ago in the mid-Cretaceous period and the Seychelles breaking off from India approximately 64 million years ago. India finally collided with Asia 35 million years ago, giving rise to the birth of the Himalayas and some the world’s highest mountains. The ancestors of the black microhylid frog subfamily had been evolving separately for over 40 million years by the time India reached its current position on earth. The genus Melanobatrachus (now solely represented by the black microhylids frog) was already present in India by this time.

This fascinating biogeographical history partly explains the black microhylids frog’s remarkable evolutionary distinctiveness. With no close relatives in its subfamily, this species is quite literally one-of-a-kind. The closest relatives of this species are actually the three species of the Hoplophryninae subfamily of the narrow-mouthed frogs, which are commonly referred to as the banana frogs and Amani forest frog of Tanzania, Africa and were geographically separated from the black microhylid frog by continental drift over the last 140 million years. An interesting feature of the black microhylid frog is that it does not appear to favour communication by sound – the tympanum (or eardrums) and middle ear is absent in this species and the males do not have a vocal sac.
The black microhylids is a small frog with a small head and short snout, growing to a length of only 34 mm. Its back is black in colour and it has a broad scarlet band across its thighs near to the groin area. It also has a few scarlet blotches on its chest. The skin of the back is warty, whilst the sides and stomach are smooth. The hind legs are fairly short and there is no webbing of the toes or fingers. The fingers and toes are fairly short and without discs at their tips.
Little is known about the black microhylid frog because it has seldom been studied since its original description in 1878, when a small number of individuals were found “curled up almost in a ball” under some rotten logs in the Amaimalai Hills. It is a rare species and was only collected two more times (1928 and 1992) in over a century after its original discovery. More recently, it was rediscovered in 1996 in the Vallakadavu Reserve Forest, adjoining the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala State, at an altitude of around 1000 metres above sea level. Eight individuals were found within a 10 metre radius, again resting beneath rotten logs about 5 m away from a stream in disturbed moist deciduous forest. It has since also been found in the Kalakkad Tiger reserve in this same region.

It breeds in pools in streams where calling males have been observed, but there is little further information on breeding biology or tadpole ecology. It has been collected in patches of degraded tropical forest close to primary forest. It probably feeds on invertebrates that are also found beneath rotten piles of wood, although further study is required to elucidate its activity and feeding patterns.
A terrestrial frog associated with leaf-litter, rocks and other ground cover of moist evergreen tropical forest. It is mountain dwelling at altitudes of 900-1,200 metres above sea level.
Found only in the southern area of the Western Ghats of India, where it is known from just three sites: Kalakkad in the Agasthyamala Hills; Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala; and the Indira Ghandi National Park in the Anaimalai Hills. The altitudinal range of the species is reported to be 900-1,200 metres above sea level.
Population Estimate
The black microhylids frog is an extremely rare species that was only recently rediscovered in 1997 after a long spell of absence. The population is fragmented and is presumed to be declining as a result of deforestation. There are currently no quantitative estimates of population size for this species.
Population Trend
The black microhylid frog is considered to be in decline by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The black microhylid is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because its extent of occurrence of less than 5,000 km sq., its distribution is severely fragmented, and there is continuing decline in the extent and quality of its forest habitat outside of protected areas.
Threatened by the conversion of forested areas to cultivated land (including Eucalyptus, coffee and tea plantations), and is potentially threatened by the development of dams within the region.
Conservation Underway
The black microhylids frog has been recorded in three protected areas: Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (Tamil Nadu); Indira Gandhi National Park (Tamil Nadu); and Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala.
Conservation Proposed
It is important to address the current dearth of information about this species’ ecology, since increased understanding of the life history of the black microhylid frog will improve future conservation decision making for this species.

Since it is known to be present in three protected areas in India it would be useful to establish a monitoring programme for this species as part of the National Park or Reserve Management Strategy. This may require the provision of amphibian survey training to staff in each of these protected areas, or monitoring could be carried out by local conservationists.

Should populations of the black microhylid frog be found to decline further then habitat conservation action plans should be designed and implemented to prevent the extinction of this remarkable amphibian.
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Biju, S.D. 2001. A synopsis to the frog fauna of the Western Ghats, India. Occasional Publication 1. ISCB : 1-24.

Biju, S.D., Vasudevan, K., Bhuddhe, G.D., Dutta, S., Srinivasulu, C. & Vijayakumar, S.P. 2004. Melanobatrachus indicus. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN Red List. Downloaded on 31 July 2007.

Daltry, J.C. and Martin, G. 1997. Rediscovery of the black narrow-mouth frog Melanobatrachus indicus Beddome, 1878. Hamadryad 22(1): 57-58.

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Dutta, S.K. 1997. Amphibians of India and Sri Lanka. Odyssey Publishing House, Bhubaneswar.

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Groombridge, B. (ed.) 1994. 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Halliday, T. and Adler, C. (eds.). 2002. The new encyclopedia of reptiles and amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Ishwar, N.M. 2000. Melanobatrachus indicus Beddome, 1878, resighted at the Anaimalai Hills, southern India. Hamadryad 25: 50-51.

IUCN, Conservation International and NatureServe. 2006. Global Amphibian Assessment. Global Amphibian Assessment. Accessed on 08 December 2006.

IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre. 1988. 1988 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN. 1990. 1990 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Obst, F.J., Richter, K. and Jacob, U. 1984. The Completely Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians for the Terrarium. T.F.H. Publication Inc., N.J., U.S.A.

Roelants, K., Gower, D. J., Wilkinson, M., Loader, S. P., Biju, S. D., Guillaume, K., Moiau, L. and Bossuyt, F. 2007. Global patterns of diversification in the history of modern amphibians. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 887-892.

Vasudevan, K. 1997. Rediscovery of the black microhylid Melanobatrachus indicus (Beddome, 1878). Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 94: 170-171.

Vasudevan, K. 2000. An amazing frog from the Western Ghats. Biodiversity India 8-12: 12.

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