First video footage of 2 EDGE amphibians in the Western Ghats, India!

By Arun Kanagavel

And the third month indeed proves to be lucky. Woo hooo!!! Numerous Indian movies and daily soaps that typically repeat a particular shot three times are (probably) justifiable beyond the seriousness and comic relief they portray. We now have what I think is the first video footage of two EDGE amphibians in the Western Ghats of India – the Toad-skinned Frog and the Black Microhylid Frog.

The first footage is that of the Toad-skinned Frog (Indirana phrynoderma), which belongs to the Indirana Genus, found only in India. These frogs have a characteristic supra-tympanic fold from their eye to the shoulder and the tips of their fingers and toes are disc-like. The larval stages of this Genus are way more characteristic, as they are semi-terrestrial and can be seen on tapering, moist rocks with a film of flowing water and in leaf litter. Reading through the existent literature on these frogs did add vastly to my bout of nervousness. The Genus was croaking loud with cryptic species i.e. the different species were morphologically very similar and only a genetic analysis could at times tell them apart. Some of the different species that had been described in detail could really be told apart only from the extent of their toe webbings. However when Benjamin Tapley (ZSL) and I came across the Toad-skinned frog for the first time, it was very obvious! The frog is exceptionally different from the other Indiranas. It’s wartiness and skin folds have a stark resemblance to a toad and more so it’s behavior. Unlike the other Indiranas, this frog seemed to depend more on its ability to camouflage, rather than speed to escape disturbance. The underbody was extremely distinct; grainy black in color, with very little webbing between its toes.

The second EDGE species is what I would refer to as a “Gollum” among the frogs I have seen. The closest relatives of this Black Microhylid Frog (Melanobatrachus indicus) are found in Tanzania! The frog is stark black in color with numerous raised projections all over. The tip of each of these projections is blue giving the animal an overall shimmering look. And it was only when the animal moved or was flipped over, were its bright orange colored portions revealed!

Amidst all this excitement of having seen the Toad-skinned Frog and the “coconut crunch” cookies at one of our field sites, we were visited by Benjamin Tapley, the Team Lead at the Herpetology Department of ZSL, who provided us with much-needed mentorship and technical support. I will begin with an actual trip report in the next blog entry!

Read more about cryptic diversity among the Indiranas in research papers authored by Abhilash Nair and his colleagues.

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