Every year, scientists discover new species of animals that have been hiding in plain view for hundreds, or in some cases millions, of years. Case in point: the starry dwarf frog from India’s Western Ghats.
This beautiful amphibian was named Astrobatrachus Kurichiyana, an homage to both its constellation markings and the peoples who populate the hilly area of Kurichiyarmala, per a press release from the Florida Museum of Natural History.
The findings were published in the PeerJ journal by scientists who claim that the starry dwarf frog is part of the Astrobatrachinae genus, which was an ancient lineage that split off from other amphibians during the evolutionary process.
Associate curator of herpetology from Florida’s Museum of Natural History explains, “This is an oddball frog – it has no close sister species for maybe tens of millions of years. With frogs, there are still ancient lineages out there awaiting discovery. This gives us one more puzzle piece to think about deep time.”
The starry dwarf frog is dark brown with a brightly colored orange belly. The frog is covered with pale blue speckles. These frogs are perfectly camouflaged in the wet leaves of the forest, and nearly impossible to spot.
Common Ancestor in India
The frog’s closest cousin seems to be the Nyctibatrachidae, a family that shares 30 species across India and Sri Lanka. The frogs appear to share only one common ancestor that lived millions of years ago because they do not appear to be related to some modern frogs.
The starry dwarf frog was discovered by Seenapuram Palaniswamy Vijayakumar and Kartik Shanker while they were exploring the Western Ghats. They, along with a team of researchers, studied the frog’s internal features, genetics, and skeleton using CT technology. They were able to learn more about their lineage, but many factors about these creatures still remain a mystery.
Research is ongoing to study its call, its life cycle, and how many of these frogs exist, amid fears it may be endangered. Studying the starry dwarf frog gives scientists a better understanding of the biodiversity of the Western Ghats.
Vijayakumar explains the importance of the starry dwarf frog in an interview: “These frogs are relics. They persisted for so long. This lineage could have been knocked off at any point in time. Irrespective of who we are, we should be celebrating the very fact that these things exist.”