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Introducing N. Bhupathi, a frog with the face of a pig

Frogs are not exactly the cultural exemplars of good looks, as the famous fairy tale, The Frog Prince , reminds us. But the newly discovered Nasikabatrachus bhupathi could set the bar a couple of notches lower — or higher — depending on your aesthetic sensibility.

According to a paper published last month in Alytes , a scientific journal devoted to the study of frogs and amphibians, Indian scientists have discovered a new species of frog that has a snout-shaped nose, just like a pig’s, evoking comparisons with the Purple frog that took the world by storm when it was discovered in 2003.

The soiled-dwelling species, discovered by scientists from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad, has been named after the Indian herpetologist S. Bhupathy,who died in a freak accident in 2014. Bhupathy’s purple frog inhabits the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats, near the Srivilliputhur Grizzled Giant Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu.

The discovery is significant as it constitutes additional evidence in favour of the theory of continental drift. The Purple frog is an inhabitant of Seychelles, and the discovery of Bhupathy’s purple frog in India suggests that the Indian subcontinent was part of the ancient landmass of Gondwana before splitting from Seychelles 65 million years ago.

Bhupathi differs from the Purple frog ( Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis ) morphologically and acoustically: it is dark brown, and each of its calls consists of four distinct pulses (while the Purple frog pauses once between its three-pulse-call).

“We confirmed it was a different species when we bar-coded its DNA and found that genetically it was very different from the Purple frog,” says Ramesh K Aggarwal, chief scientist at the CCMB and one of the five co-authors of the study published in Alytes .

The scientists first spotted the tadpoles in a small, fast-flowing stream. Then they reared a few near the site and studied them in the laboratory. But to confirm that it was a new species, they had wait for two years as they needed to locate more such frogs in the same area that the tadpoles were first seen in. The discovery of this species suggests that there may be more subterranean varieties to be discovered, say the scientists.