New tree frog genus discovered in forests of north-eastern India

Jan 21, 2016 12:16 IST

Professor Sathyabhama Das Biju, popularly known as the frogman of India, and his team of researchers discovered a new genus of tree hole-breeding frogs in the forests of India's northeast and China.

The team comprised PhD students of Biju and researchers from National Centre for Cell Science (Pune), University of Peradeniya (Sri Lanka), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium) and American Museum of Natural History (USA).

The findings were published on 20 January 2016 in a paper titled Frankixalus, a new rhacophorid genus of tree hole-breeding frog with oophagous tadpoles in the international journal PLoS One.

The genus has been named Frankixalus after Professor Franky Bossuyt of Vrije Universiteit Brussel for his contribution to amphibian research.

Key characteristics of Frankixalus

The genus includes a species first described in 1876 based solely on museum specimens.

The newfound frog populations live and breed in pools of water in holes in the trunks of canopy trees — a lifestyle that likely kept them off scientists’ radar.

Tadpoles eat their mother’s eggs for sustenance, a common practice among frogs that live in low-resource environments.

How the frogs were discovered?

In 1870, British naturalist T C Jerdon collected two specimens of a tree frog from forests of Darjeeling and preserved them at Natural History Museum, London.

The frog was not found in the wild for over 150 years and was scientifically deemed lost. It remained a mysterious creature-a victim of mistaken identity ever since.

The overlooked specimens in London were pulled out of the museum cabinets and studied, and the team conducted extensive field work for three years in the forests of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Sikkim and Darjeeling.

The samples were analysed in the genetics lab of Delhi University.

Phylogenetic analyses of nuclear and mitochondrial gene fragments totalling 3800 characters for 86 taxa representing all major rhacophorid lineages were performed.

It was demonstrated that these frogs form a distinct evolutionary lineage that warrants recognition as a new genus.

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