Inside the secret world of bamboo-breeding frogs

Meet the white-spotted bush frog, a species that is fascinating on several counts. For one, it breeds inside bamboos (yes, in the hollows of the fast growing woody grasses).

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To convince a female to have kids with him, a male frog first finds a nice spot – a bamboo stem with a tiny hole just big enough to get through – and then sings to impress.

If a female likes it, she enters the bamboo, lays her eggs and immediately calls it quits. Daddy babysits alone (and mamma moves on to make more babies).

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A month later, their round see-through eggs hatch directly into mini versions of their parents, instead of tadpoles.
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The florescent froglets stay put for a while before going it alone. Until they leave, their doting dad guards them round the clock, forgoing his hunt for food. He eats insects that stray into the bamboo cavity – things like ants and flies.
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While daddy does his duty, he aggressively croaks to warn other male frogs against stepping on his patch.

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And with good reason: rival males can make a quick meal of his eggs. They are hungry and, it turns out, cannibals. Eggs, as is obvious, are rich in nutrients and if left behind by their dad, have little chance of survival. Scientists recently uncovered these aspects of the bamboo-breeding frogs using an endoscope – a medical device typically used to peer inside our bodies.

What makes matters worse for the frogs, besides cannibalism, is that they are a critically endangered species existing nowhere but in India’s Western Ghats, a chain of mountains alongside the country’s west coast.

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And given the harvesting pressure facing their bamboo nursery, the frogs need all the help they can get. Finding out where the frogs live outside of reserves can identify bamboo stands worth protecting. Another useful thing would be to stop cutting down bamboo during monsoons, which is when the frogs breed. You can do your bit by spreading the word on a more detailed piece I wrote about these frogs for Mongabay-India.

Photo, sound and video credit: Seshadri K.S. (Many thanks to him for sharing the multimedia and giving permissions for use)

What’s behind the recent spate of discoveries?

Deepak Veerappan was in-between research jobs when, out of boredom, he started exploring the parched open lands in the south and west of India. He ventured out on his own into sun-baked landscapes in search of a “fan-throated lizard” – a small lizard with a large double chin. His post-doctoral position at the Indian Institute of Science, and thus funding, were yet to come but he had already laid the foundation of what would keep him busy for the next few years.

Only two species of the unusual lizards Veerappan loved watching had been known from India. From observing them in the wild, he knew there were actually more than two. This led Veerappan to discover five new species of fan-throated lizards – named so because the males have loose, stretchable skin hanging from their necks.

This spectacular find is one among a slew of discoveries we have seen so far this year in India. Wherever you look, be it the shores in the south or mighty mountains in the north, sun-scorched lands of the west or wet hills of the east, new species are being found everywhere. And yet scientists say there’s more to come. What on earth is going on?

To find out, read the full feature at The Wire.

Photo credit: Varad Giri

The tadpoles that swim in sand

In 2014, 14 new species of “dancing frogs” were discovered in the Western Ghats, a wildlife-rich mountainous region along the west coast of Peninsular India.

5. Tadpoles of Micrixalus herrei

These Indian dancing frogs are named for the antics males get up to when they want to grab the attention of a female.

Perched on a wet rock in a noisy, fast-flowing stream, a male sings and waves to the females. He lifts and stretches a leg to flag his white, webbed toe.

Any rival males on the territory are literally kicked out by the singing-and-dancing male.

It now turns out that this foot-waving, which was observed in nine species of the genus Micrixalus, is not the only bizarre trait that runs in the family. For the first time, researchers have found the tadpoles of a dancing frog, specifically the Kallar dancing frog (Micrixalus herrei).

Unlike most tadpoles, which live in water, they live underground until they develop into froglets.

Read more about the tadpoles here at BBC Earth.

Photo credit: SD Biju

What’s driving the endangered purple frog to extinction?

For indigenous communities living in and around the forests of Kerala, tadpoles of a rather puffy, purplish frog are a cherished delicacy. The practise of consuming tadpoles has been around for decades but researchers worry that harvesting them any more will soon push the endangered frog to the verge of extinction.

Found only in the Western Ghats, the Indian purple frog, Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, is a rather weird-looking creature known for its rather strange behaviour. It spends much of its time below ground, save the few days when it comes out to mate, after which it disappears into its burrow again. This elusive frog has tiny eyes, short limbs, a pointed nose and a large body – all adapted to a life underground.

Discovered in 2003, the purple frog was soon classified as endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List due to its already declining habitat and a geographical range of less than 5,000 square km. We still don’t know a lot about the frog’s life, since much of the action happens underground, or about its dwindling numbers.

Now, a five-year survey (2008–2012) by the scientist who discovered the species has revealed that a single tribal household of four consumes an average of about 1,500 tadpoles in one monsoon season (July to September). There are 100 to 150 households in the area where the survey was conducted.

Read the full story at The Wire.

Photo credit: SD Biju

DJ frogs remix tunes on the hop

Deep in the evergreen forests of Vietnam, curious little green-blooded frogs spend monsoon nights performing vocals, improvising new melodies each time they sing.

Known popularly as “frogs that sing like birds”, male Gracixalus treefrogs perform to attract females and to ward off other males.

But these are not your average frogs, croaking out the same old tunes. Gracixalus frogs shuffle notes to compose a new melody every single time they sing.

To human ears, songs of the three related species – G. quangi, G. supercornutus and G. gracilipes – sound like birds chirping.

They randomly mix high-pitched, long notes called “whistles” with short, sharp “clicks” to compose new tunes.

Each song is unique in its complexity, duration, amplitude, frequency and structure, as opposed to being specific to an individual or a species as it is in most frogs.

Listen to their songs in my story for New Scientist.

Photo credit: Jodi Rowley

Treasure trove of new frogs found in India

Nine new species of bush frog have been discovered in the Western Ghats, a mountainous region in southern India that is a hotspot of biodiversity.

Bush frogs are tiny animals, found mainly in South and South-East Asia, some of which can fit onto a 20 pence coin. Beginning in 2008, S. P. Vijayakumar, then at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, has been scouring the Western Ghats to find them. The new species he has found all belong to the genus Raorchestes, and he has identified them based on their appearance and genetics. Vijayakumar and his colleagues have published their findings in Zootaxa.

The Western Ghats is home to many species of frog, including the 14 dancing frogs discovered earlier this year. That’s because it is a fragmented landscape, with hills, valleys and plateaus. This means populations of frogs can easily wind up evolving in isolation.

Read the rest at BBC Earth.

Photo credit: S. P. Vijayakumar

Viral outbreak threatens the survival of amphibians

A viral outbreak is killing amphibians, including frogs, toads and salamanders, in the Picos de Europa National Park in Spain. As if the imminent local extinction of amphibians wasn’t grim enough in itself, their disappearance, scientists fear, could also tip the ecological balance in favour of species amphibians feed on.

A team of researchers from Spain and the United Kingdom started monitoring amphibians in the national park in 2005 when they first noticed a die-off from viral infection. The team is now the first to report two related, highly infectious viruses – the ranaviruses – simultaneously infecting multiple amphibian species at several locations in Spain.

Ranavirus infection is often associated with severe disease and mass deaths of amphibians but previously decline of only one amphibian species had been [quantified]. Here, we show three amphibian species showing simultaneous population collapses in the Picos National Park,” says Stephen J. Price, researcher at University College London and an author of the study published today in the journal Current Biology.

Read the rest of the article at Earth Touch.