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Last Updated: Friday, 17 October, 2003, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
Purple frog delights scientists
It has to be one of the strangest looking frogs ever discovered.

The unusual frog has been put in its own taxonomic family

The chubby, seven-centimetre-long, purple amphibian with a pointy snout was found hopping around in the Western Ghats, a range of hills in western India.

Scientists have given it the name Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, from the Sanskrit word for nose (nasika); batrachus, meaning frog; and Sahyadri, the name for its mountain home.

Its head appears too small for its body and it looks more like a squat, grumpy blob than a living creature.

But to the scientists who describe it in the journal Nature, the frog is a beautiful find because of what it tells them about Earth history.

"It is an important discovery because it tells us something about the early evolution of advanced frogs that we would not know otherwise because there are no fossil records from this lineage," says Franky Bossuyt, of Free University of Brussels, Belgium.

Geological pathways

Bossuyt and colleague S D Biju, of the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute in Kerala, say N. sahyandrensis is related to a family of frogs in the Seychelles called Sooglossidae.

DNA analysis suggests the common ancestor of the animals lived 130 million years ago, when the planet's landmasses were joined together into a giant supercontinent called Gondwana.

Frog, Bossuyt/Nature
"A once-in-a-century find"
Its subsequent break-up would have sent the frogs on a diverging path of evolutionary development.

"People have been wondering about the closest relative of Sooglossidae, the ones that live on the Seychelles," Bossuyt told the Reuters news agency.

"There was a theory that maybe the closest relative was in India and had become extinct. But now we have found it, and it looks different than expected," he added.

In a commentary on the research in Nature, Blair Hedges, of Pennsylvania State University, US, has described the discovery of N. sahyandrensis as "a once-in-a-century find".

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