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'Unique' frog species discovered by scientists in India

13 May 10 10:27 GMT
Sivaramakrishnan Parameswaran
Producer, BBC Tamil Service

A new species of "brightly coloured frog" has been discovered in a remote peak in the southern part of India, scientists have told BBC News.

This reddish orange amphibian, spotted in the Eravaikulam National Park of the Western Ghats mountain range, has been named Raorchestes resplendens.

The scientists found the frog at an altitude of 2,698m above sea level on the Anaimudi peak.

It inhabits a very small area of less than three square kilometres.

The discovery was made by a team of scientists including Dr S D Biju, from the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Delhi.

His collaborators were Yogesh Shouche of the National Centre for Cell Sciences in Pune; S Dutta from North Orissa University, Franky Bossuyt of the Free University of Brussels, Belgium and Alain Dubois of the France-based organisation Reptiles et Amphibians.

The frog was initially identified back in 2001. Dr Biju, who led the authentication study, explained that it took almost a decade to show, via careful study of its anatomy and genome, that this brilliantly coloured specimen was in fact a new species.

"This new species of frog has got extremely short limbs and multiple glands and swellings almost like a toad," Dr Biju told BBC News.

The species is a unique new member of the tree frog group, he explained. It is the only tree frog to have what the researchers call "macro glands".

Mysterious glands

The purpose of these glands is uncertain, and the scientists are now carrying out further studies of their role and function.

The team's first step in confirming the frog as a news species was to study its breeding behaviour, comparing it to more than 200 species of frogs living in South East Asia.

"This took almost seven years," said Dr Biju.

Molecular labelling techniques were also used to distinguish this species from the other varieties.

The team also made the genome map of the new specimen available via the International Gene Bank, so it could be verified and studied further by other researchers.

Tribute to a pioneer

In naming the newly discovered species Raorchestes resplendens, the scientists have paid tribute to a pioneer in the field of herpetology - the study of amphibians.

Franky Bossuyt, a member of the team chose the first part of the name in honour of late Professor C R Narayan Rao, a herpetologist who was internationally renowned for his contribution to the study of amphibians in India.

The second part, resplendens, comes from the Latin word meaning brilliantly coloured or glittering and is based on the bright reddish-orange colouration of the frog's body.

According to the observations made by the scientists, females of the new species may mate with multiple males and possibly breed more than once in a single season.

The tree frog also has extremely short limbs. "[These] have resulted in a much more pronounced crawling behaviour," said the researchers.

The scientists also observed that the frog buried its eggs under the moss-covered forest floor, deep inside the base of bamboo clumps.

Tiny habitat

These frogs may be represent a classic example of "point endemism" in amphibians, says Dr Biju. This means that the species lives in a very limited range of environmental conditions, making it very vulnerable to extinction.

The team say that fewer than one thousand of these frogs survive in a unique ecosystem that is less than three square kilometres in size.

Its habitat will require "special attention" in order to conserve the species, says the team.

About one third the world's amphibians are under threat from extinction. Habitat destruction due to human activity identified as a primary cause of their numbers being so drastically reduced.

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