The underground frog
The purple frog calls out from underground to attract a mate. Some people say that the noise it makes sounds like the cluck of a chicken!
This peculiar-looking frog spends its entire life underground, emerging only for a few days each year to breed.
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 officially named 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, an island 3,000 miles away! The two species share an ancestor that dates back to before the break-up of the supercontinent Gondwana.
The purple frog is rarely seen and has a peculiar pig-like nose. Locals say it looks like a turtle without a shell! It is a fossorial (burrowing) species that spends almost all of its life underground. It emerges for just a few days every year in the monsoon season to breed in very specific sites. Female purple frogs, of which only three have ever been identified by scientists, travel to known watercourses to lay their eggs while carrying the much smaller males on their backs. Because they need very specific breeding conditions, they are vulnerable to habitat loss. Once hatched, purple frog tadpoles use sucker-like mouthparts to cling to rocks in fast-flowing water. Purple frog tadpoles take 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 growing areas, as well as small-scale human developments and dams. Traditional uses of the purple frog by local communities include using 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 who has been working to protect the purple frog in Kerala, India since 2017. The programme is working with Sandeep to conduct research and encourage communities to get involved, while also trying to reduce the threat to the special little frog’s native habitat. Sandeep has recorded purple frogs in 126 locations in the Western Ghats, gathered community volunteers to clear litter from breeding sites and persuaded the Kerala Forest Department to restrict tourist access to key breeding sites. He is also raising 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 the State Frog for Kerala, an idea that has been covered widely by the media. Local government are due to make a decision on this proposal in 2020. The decision can’t come soon enough, because the purple frog’s survival is under threat right now!