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Rare find: Frogs that make nests to lay eggs

Pigs may not fly,but frogs certainly do make nests. In a 20-km stretch between Wayanad and Coorg,three...

Written by Neha Sinha | New Delhi |
September 2, 2009 3:34:49 am

Pigs may not fly,but frogs certainly do make nests.

In a 20-km stretch between Wayanad and Coorg,three different kinds of tree frogs — who like birds,make nests for their eggs — have been discovered. These are endemic species,meaning they may not be found anywhere else,even in India.

S D Biju from the Centre for Management of Degraded Ecosystems,Delhi University,has found the three species of tree frogs,Rhacophorus Lateralis,Rhacophorus Calcadensis and Rhacophorus Pseudomalabaricus,which use leaves to make a purse-like nest for their eggs. Of these,the Lateralis braves rainfall to create a fragile nest out of a single leaf. The nests are made over a gelatinous substance in which eggs are laid. Biju’s findings have been published in the August volume of science journal Current Science.

While similar frogs have been documented in 1880s,it was not known that they build nests. Two other species of frogs which build nests from leaves are found in sub-Saharan Africa and the other in Central America in the Panama area. In India,another species,the Malabaricus,has been found earlier to lay eggs between leaves. However,these tiny frogs,typically 6-7 cm long,growing up to 11-12 cm,face a problem: coffee plantations.

“I worked in the Wayanad area for close to 20 years and only then found these three species of frogs which fold leaves to create a nest. These were found in a tiny four square kilometre stretch between Wayanad and Coorg. If we stretch the habitat,it may extend to not more than 20-25 square kilometre where these animals are living and nesting. But forests are vanishing very fast and new coffee plantations pose a threat to the natural habitat. I found some of these frogs living on the fringes of coffee plantations,” Biju says.

He adds that the nests themselves are survival strategy. “These are very rare frogs,the only ones of their kind in Asia. The last time a similar frog was described was in the 1880s by a British scientist. The reason these frogs build nest is to protect their eggs from heat,predatory birds and insects. The female then uses her forelimbs to fold the leaf. After that,she probably produces a sticky substance to stick the two ends of the leaf together,” he says.

The nests have to be made very quickly and skillfully,dodging the intermittent rainfall of the Western Ghats. While the African and American species of leaf nesting frog have both males and females helping out,in India,it is the females alone who build the nests.

“Western Ghats are ecologically very important and has extreme endemism,meaning species found here are found nowhere else in the world. Coffee plants are a big threat as they take over the under-storey of the rainforest. Coffee is an invasive species and is replacing native species,” says Qamar Qureshi from the Wildlife Institute of India.

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