Meet the purple frog

Purple Frog

Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis

Purple Frog © Sandeep Das

Animal Stats

PopulationPopulation Unknown; only 135 ever observed in the wild
Weight165 g
Sizefrom 6 to 9 cm
Threat StatusEndangered

Where It Lives

Fascinating Facts

The underground frog

The peculiar-looking purple frog spends its entire life underground, emerging only for a few days each year to breed. Its closest relatives live 3,000 miles away in the Seychelles.

A closer look

The Purple Frog's Story

The purple frog belongs to Nasikabatrachidae, the first new frog family to be recognised by scientists since 1926. Though only formally acknowledged as a species in 2003, it evolved independently from other frogs for 100 million years, pre-dating the extinction of the dinosaurs. The purple frog is found solely in parts of India’s Western Ghats mountain range while its closest relative is a family of tiny frogs living on the Seychelles. The two species share a common ancestor that dates back to before the break-up of the supercontinent Gondwana.

Reclusive, little seen and with a peculiar pig-like nose, the purple frog is a fossorial (burrowing) species that spends almost all of its time living underground. It emerges only for a few days every year in the monsoon season to breed in very specific sites. During this process, the females travel to known water courses to lay their eggs while carrying the males, making them vulnerable to habitat loss. Once hatched, purple frog tadpoles use sucker-like mouthparts to cling onto rocks in fast-flowing water, taking around 100 days to become frogs.

Living only outside protected areas, the purple frog’s native forest habitats are being lost due to expanding coffee and spice cultivation as well as small-scale human developments and dams. Traditional uses of the purple frog by local communities include consumption of its tadpoles, for medicines and as amulets to reduce the fear of storms in children.

What’s being done?

The Zoological Society of London’s EDGE of Existence programme is supporting Sandeep Das, an EDGE fellow and conservation leader, who has been working to protect the purple frog in Kerala, India since 2017. In partnership with Sandeep, the programme is conducting research and community engagement while seeking to reduce the threat to the purple frog’s native habitat. Sandeep has recorded purple frogs in 126 locations in the Western Ghats, enlisted community support to clear litter from breeding sites and persuaded the Kerala Forest Department to restrict tourist access to key breeding sites. He has also raised awareness of the importance and vulnerability of the purple frog in local communities throughout the region, reaching thousands of students and teachers. Together, they propose that the purple frog should be declared as the State Frog for Kerala, a suggestion that has been covered widely by the media. Local government are due to make a decision on this proposal in 2020. Yet, even so, the threat to the purple frog’s survival is urgent.

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