After years of combing tropical mountain forests, a team of scientists in India have found a dozen new frog species in addition to three others that were thought to be extinct.
Previously, there had been little interest in conservation for amphibians in India. Most conservation projects in the country focus on more charismatic animals like the elephant and the tiger.
The focus of the recent study was India's endemic night frogs that are extremely hard to spot. The frogs typically come out only at dark and during the monsoon season, living on moist forest ground or in fast-flowing streams.
Student researchers, under the guidance of the project's lead scientist, biologist Sathyabhama Das Biju of the University of Delhi, had to sit in damp, dark forests listening for frog sounds and shining flashlights under rocks and across riverbeds to do their work.
They note that half of the newly discovered species reproduce without any physical contact between the sexes, with the female depositing her eggs on a leaf and the males later fertilizing them. Despite this, both parents then take an active role in guarding the eggs, warding off predators, and bringing water to prevent them from drying out.
One of the more unique finds is the Meowing Night Frog, whose croak sounds more like a cat's call.
Another, the Wayanad Night Frog, grows to the size of a baseball.
It's almost like a monster in the forest floor, a huge animal for a frog, leaping from one rock to another, Biju notes.
All of the new frogs were spotted in a region known as the Western Ghats, a mountain range that stretches along the western coast of the subcontinent and has been identified as one of the ten hottest biodiversity hotspots in the world.
In his 35-year career, Biju is credited with discovering dozens of new Indian frog species.
He notes that this is likely only half of what species remain undiscovered in the wild. Biju said that none of India's amphibians are being studied for biological compounds that could be of further use in science.
We first have to find the species, know them and protect them, so that we can study them for their clinical importance, he said in the study, published in the journal Zootaxa on Sept. 15.
Frogs are extremely important indicators not just of climate change, but also pollutants in the environment, Biju added.
According to the group Global Wildlife Conservation, 32 percent of the world's known amphibian species are threatened with extinction, largely due to habitat loss and pollution.
The team hopes that their discovery will bring attention to India's amphibians and their unique role in judging the health of the environment.