New Species of Frog In India Belongs To Ancient Lineage

The last common ancestor of the starry dwarf frog may have existed tens of millions of years ago, say researchers in India and the US.

AsianScientist (Mar. 26, 2019) – Scientists in India and the US have discovered a thumbnail-size species of frog in India’s Western mountainous region. Their findings are published in PeerJ.

Scientists have found many ancient lineages of frogs in the Western mountain ranges, or Ghats, of India. The elevated region has been cross-sectioned into separate hill ranges by millions of years of erosion and climatic changes, creating ecological niches that could give rise to new species of frogs.

In the present study, researchers led by Dr. Kartik Shanker at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, and colleagues in the US have identified a shy amphibian residing in the leaf litters of India’s Western Ghats. Dark brown with a bright orange underbelly and speckled with pale blue dots, the frog camouflages well in wet leaf litter, and only a few individuals have been found.

The researchers named the specimen Astrobatrachus kurichiyana for its constellation-like markings and the indigenous people of Kurichiyarmala, the hill range where it was found. They also performed a CT scan of the frog, revealing its skeleton and other internal features. This allowed them to compare the frog’s bone structure to other frog species from the Western Ghats that have been imaged as part of the openVertebrate project, known as oVert, an initiative to scan 20,000 vertebrates from museum collections.

The team found that A. kurichiyana’s closest relatives are the family Nyctibatrachidae, a group of nearly 30 species native to India and Sri Lanka. But their last common ancestor could date back tens of millions of years.

Finding ancient lineages like Astrobatrachinae can help fill in in the region’s distant biological past, but the starry dwarf frog maintains many mysteries of its own. For example, researchers still do not know its life cycle, the sound of its call or whether the species is threatened or endangered.

“This is an oddball frog—it has no close sister species for maybe tens of millions of years,” said Dr. David Blackburn, associate curator of herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, US, a co-author on the study. “With frogs, there are still ancient lineages out there awaiting discovery. This gives us one more puzzle piece to think about deep time.”

The article can be found at: Vijayakumar et al. (2018) A New Ancient Lineage of Frog (Anura: Nyctibatrachidae: Astrobatrachinae subfam. nov.) Endemic to the Western Ghats of Peninsular India.


Source: Florida Museum of Natural History; Photo: Seenapuram Palaniswamy Vijayakumar.
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