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New Frog Species Is Discovered in Southern India

The amphibian's closest relatives live off Africa, raising questions on how ancient animal populations dispersed.

October 18, 2003|Usha Lee McFarling | Times Staff Writer

A new species of bright purple frog -- a chubby blob with a pointy snout -- has been discovered in southern India.

The amphibian is so different from known frogs that it has been placed into a new family of frogs called Nasikabatrachidae, from Sanskrit and Greek for "nose frog."

The find, by S.D. Biju of the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute of Kerala, India, and Franky Bossuyt of Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, is reported in this week's issue of the journal Nature.

Described by Penn State University biologist S. Blair Hedges as having "a bloated body, stubby limbs, tiny eyes and a protruding snout," the creature seems one that only an herpetologist could love.

Hedges considers the burrowing frog a "once-in-a-century find." Only 29 families of frogs are now known; the last new family was named in the 1800s.

The frog's closest relatives (the family Sooglossidae) live on the Seychelles, a group of islands off Africa. The distance separating the closely linked frog groups raises long-standing questions as to how ancient animal populations in the region may have dispersed and eventually become new species.

Theories ranged from the animals drifting across open oceans on floating objects to using land bridges or island chains that no longer exist.

This frog's appearance an estimated 130 million years ago suggests a third option: that India served as a "biotic ferry" that developed unique forms of animals as it drifted northward to its current location.

The frog was found in the Western Ghats, a mountain range on India's western coast. The area is among the world's eight "hottest hot spots" of biodiversity -- a place once covered with tropical forests that is home to numerous species found nowhere else in the world.

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