India’s newest frog evolved 60 million years ago

The starry dwarf frog, named after Wayanad’s Kurichiya tribe, is found outside protected areas

Published - March 13, 2019 02:00 am IST - Kochi

It is just 2 cm long and sports pale blue spots and brilliant orange thighs. The discovery of the starry dwarf frog, a nocturnal amphibian that lives under leaf litter on a mountaintop in Kerala’s Wayanad, has been published on March 13 in PeerJ , an international multidisciplinary journal.

It was in June 2010 that frog researcher Vijayakumar S.P. first laid his eyes on the odd-looking frog and picked it up from atop Wayanad’s Kurichiyarmala.

“I knew that it was a new species, it had many interesting morphological characters... shape and colour patterns that I haven’t seen in other Western Ghats frogs,” wrote Dr. Vijayakumar, from the Centre for Ecological Sciences at Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Science, in an email to The Hindu .

Recently, Dr. Vijayakumar and his co-workers, including from the George Washington University in the U.S., studied its physical, skeletal and genetic characteristics. They also compared the frog with specimens of similar species in museum collections across the world. While scans of its skeletons showed it to be completely different from any other similar-sized frog seen in Wayanad, some of its physical characteristics (such as its triangular finger- and toe tips) closely resembled frogs in South America and Africa. Genetic studies, however, revealed a different story: its closest relatives are the Nycibatrachinae group of frogs that dwell in the streams of Western Ghats, and the Lankanectinae frogs of Sri Lanka.

The team named the new species the starry dwarf frog Astrobatrachus kurichiyana (genus Astrobatrachus after its starry spots and kurichiyana in honour of the Kurichiya tribal community who live in the area). It is not only a new species but different enough to be assigned to a new ‘subfamily’. Genetic analysis reveal that the species is at least 60 million years old.

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