Croak! 12 new species

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By G.S. MUDUR in Delhi
  • Published 3.02.09

New Delhi, Feb. 3: Zoologists exploring the Western Ghats have discovered 12 new species of frogs, showing that creatures hitherto unknown to science may be found even in rapidly degrading habitats.

All the 12 species, spotted by Sathyabhama Das Biju from the University of Delhi and his colleagues, are tree-dwelling nocturnal frogs belonging to a group of amphibians called Philautus, one with an orange body, another with green eyes.

The scientists found eight of the 12 species at only single sites, indicating they were rare and possibly under threat of extinction. The green-eyed Philautus chlorosomma is found only near Munnar in Kerala.

“We may be looking at some of the last members of a vanishing species,” said Biju, who has spent part of the past decade trudging through the forests, valleys and plantations of the Ghats looking for for new amphibians.

During one field trip that took him to a tea plantation, Biju also rediscovered Philautus travancore, a frog that had been thought to have gone extinct more than 100 years ago. On another trip, he found a new purple frog, which is yet to be named. The scientists found the 12 species at different sites along a stretch of the Ghats from the Tapti basin in Gujarat to Kanyakumari. The findings appear in the latest issue of the Zoological Journal of Linnean Society.

“They all belong to the genus of bush frogs but are quite different from each other,” said Franky Bossuyt, a biologist and co-author of the paper, who has been helping classify and build evolutionary family trees of frogs from different parts of the world.

Earlier studies have suggested that the world may have already lost more than 200 amphibian species since 1980, and one in three surviving amphibians are on the verge of extinction, Biju said.

“Our findings highlight the importance of taxonomy. It is difficult to protect frogs without (assigning them) a name,” Bossuyt said. “The finding of 12 species from a single genus also highlights the importance of the region as a bio-diversity hotspot.”

Scientists view amphibians as early warning indicators of changes in the ecosystem. Researchers point out that frogs also help control the spread of malaria or dengue by eating the insects that spread the micro-organisms that cause these diseases.