Seven new miniature species of frogs, now listed as some of the smallest known worldwide, have been discovered in India.
Typically known as night frogs, the animals from the genus Nyctibatrachus are located in Western Ghats, a mountain range running down western India and teeming with rich biology. They add to the 28 previously known night frog species, over half of which were identified in the last five years.
New Tiny Finds In Biodiversity Hotspot
The discovery of the new species — four out of seven of which are tiny frogs measuring up to 15.4 millimeters in length and can sit comfortably on a coin or thumbnail — was made by Delhi University professor and “Frogman of India” Sathyabhama Das Biju along his team, the Times of India reported.
Other frogs belonging to the genus predominantly live in streams, but these new finds were found under damp forest leaf litter or in marsh vegetation. They may have been abundant in numbers in the area, but were likely overlooked due to their very small size, insect-like calls, and secret habitats.
Ph.D. study and study co-author Sonali Garg deemed the discovery tricky.
“It was extremely difficult to locate the calling individuals because they were always hiding under thick ground vegetation and leaf litter,” Garg recalled. “If we went too close, they would stop calling, making it even more difficult.”
Other domestic wildlife also got in the way, with the team getting chased by an elephant and having to “run for [their] lives, without the frog or the recording!”
Protecting The Miniature Frogs
In the laboratory, the freshly sampled frogs were confirmed using DNA analysis, detailed studies of their physical characteristics, and bioacoustics. The confirmation brought the total number of known species in the genus to 35, or 20 percent of which are tiny in size. The genus also represents an ancient frog group diversifying on the local landmass about 70 to 80 million years earlier.
Biju warned in an email to National Geographic, however, that the newly discovered species need to be protected immediately, as they found that their habitats are usually “highly disturbed by human activities.”
Western Ghats, while remaining a biodiversity hotspot, is seeing an increase in human settlement and the building of large plantations in the area.
Climate change is another threat it is facing. The warmer the temperatures, the more likely frogs are to move their ranges up when it comes to elevation — a prospect with uncertain consequences, according to Neil Cox of IUCN’s Biodiversity Assessment Unit.
Of the 1,581 new amphibian species discussed around the world from 2006 to 2015, the highest numbers were from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest followed by the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka area. Of the estimated 159 described in the Indian biodiversity site, 103 came from the Western Ghats alone.
Nearly a third of known amphibian species are facing threats of extinction. New discoveries like this fuel hope for scientists in understanding where the creatures live and how they can be better conserved.
The findings were discussed in the journal PeerJ.