A tiny frog species has been identified for the first time in the Western Ghats. What makes the “starry dwarf frog” significant is that it is millions of years old but had evaded attention until now. Scientists have described the species in the journal Peer J.
What it is like: The species has been named Astrobatrachus kurichiyana for its constellation-like markings and the indigenous people of Kurichiyarmala, the hill range where it was found. It is dark brown with a bright orange underbelly, and speckled with pale blue dots.
The size of a thumbnail, it plunges into leaf litter at the slightest disturbance, hence remaining hidden. Only a few individuals have been found.
Seenapuram Palaniswamy Vijayakumar, lead author of the paper, was a doctoral student under the supervision of IISc associate professor Kartik Shanker when they discovered the species in the Western Ghats. Years later, they assembled research team to describe the species.
Why it is important: A kurichiyana has been classified as the sole member of an ancient lineage — the newly named subfamily Astrobatrachinae that is a long branch on the frog tree of life. The Florida Museum of Natural History quoted herpetologist David Blackburn as describing it as “an oddball frog — it has no close sister species for maybe tens of millions of years”.
The research 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. —Source: Florida Museum of Natural History