Malabar sanctuary home to new night frog species

Nyctibatrachus mewasinghi is a new species of night frog from Western Ghats

December 30, 2017 05:39 pm | Updated January 01, 2018 07:24 am IST - KOCHI

A new frog from Kerala is the latest contribution to the spurt in amphibian discoveries across India: scientists have just discovered the Mewa Singh’s Night frog, belonging to a genus endemic to the Western Ghats, from Kozhikode’s Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary.

According to a scientific paper published on December 26 in The Journal of Threatened Taxa (an international journal on conservation and taxonomy), the new night frog Nyctibatrachus mewasinghi is light brown in colour with an off-white underside, and sports faintly wrinkled skin with prominent granular projections.

Since many frogs in the genus Nyctibatrachus look similar, scientists from institutes, including the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (Pune, Maharashtra) and the Zoo Outreach Organisation (ZOO, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu) used both physical characteristics as well as genetic methods to confirm the frog as a new species. Using tissue samples of 10 collected specimens, the scientists analysed portions of two genes and found that it varied enough from other closely-related species to make the Mewa Singh’s night frog a different species. They also found that the frog’s genetically closest relatives are the Athirappilly night frog (found south of the Palakkad Gap in Thrissur and Idukki) and the Kempholey night frog (found in the northern Western Ghats of Kerala and Karnataka).

Morphologically, the Mewa Singh’s night frog can be distinguished from these similar-looking and genetically close relatives by several physical characteristics, including the pattern of its webbed fingers and toes. The frog has been named after wildlife scientist Mewa Singh, in honour of his contributions to behavioural ecology and primate studies.

The new frog is currently known only from Peruvannamuzhi in the Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary, where the scientists found it in a small stream running along the Peruvannamuzhi dam.

“It is an interesting species because of this currently-known restricted distribution,” says author Sanjay Molur of ZOO. “We will need more surveys to understand these frogs better.”

Close relative

What is unusual is that the frog’s genetically closest relative — the Athirappilly night frog — is found far away and across the Palakkad gap, says Mr. Molur. “Hence the species is also unique from a genetic perspective,” he says.

Frogs in the genus Nyctibatrachus , commonly known as night frogs, are found only in the Western Ghats mountain range. The addition of the Mewa Singh’s night frog to this group brings the total number of night frogs to 36.

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