Did you know frogs can live underground most of their life? And did you know that there is a special species with a pig-nose, a shiny purple skin and little eyes? Its name is Bhupathy’s frog and it’s been discovered recently in the Western Ghats mountain range in India.
Only people who go to this remote area and just in particular moments, can spot this peculiar animal, so well evolved and adapted to spend its entire adult life underground.
Small eyes, a light blue ring around them, a long snout, short limbs with hardened “spades”. These are the features that allow this frog to survive below ground, feeding of ants and termites that it slurps with its long fluted tongue.
Technically known as “Nasikabatrachus bhupathi”, this new species has been given with this name in honour of Dr. Subramaniam Bhupathy, died in the Western Ghats in 2014. To date, only two species of this purple frog have been discovered, with the first one found in the same region in 2003.
Both species are so extraordinary and unusual that they have a very low diversity and an ancient lineage. In addition, their closest relatives are not in India but the Seychelles (closer to Africa than India). This demonstrates both species of purple frog have been having an independent evolution. And they evolved so well that they adapted to take their lives to the extreme, by living underground almost permanently.
In fact, the Bhupathy’s purple frogs come out from their ‘cage’ only during the monsoon season, when males start calling loudly from beneath the sand and mate with the ‘ladies’ in the mountain streams. In here, females deposit their eggs and after one or two days tadpoles come to the world and spend their first 120 days in the torrent.
Unlike the other species – who swim around puddles and ponds – Bhupathy’s purple frog tadpoles cling to the rocks behind waterfalls (created by the heavy rains) thanks to their special mouth similar to a suckerfish (or remora) orifice. There, they eat algae with their tiny teeth.
These days are the only ones you can see these frogs ‘under the sun’ (or better under the rain) and the first 120 are the longest period.
Who knows how many new frog species scientists will discover in the next years? Although they are one of the most threatened animals in the planet (with 42% at risk of extinction), we don’t really know how many species live out there. In fact, over 100 new frog species are discovered and described in scientific journals each year. And the Bhupathy’s purple frog is now one of them, recently described in the Alytes journal by S Jegath Janani (North Orissa University), Elizabeth Prendini (American Museum of Natural History), Karthikeyan Vasudevan and Ramesh K Aggarwal (Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, India) co-authors of the research.
Frogs can be of various colours and size, but seeing a subterranean purple frog that loves to get out only to ‘sing under the rain’ is very rare and peculiar. Have you ever seen any unusual little amphibian in your life? How was it?