A ‘secretive’ new species of orange-bellied frog with a brown back, covered in tiny spots that resemble a starry sky, has been discovered in Western Ghats mountain range, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, scientists said. The thumbnail-sized species was named Astrobatrachus kurichiyana for its constellation-like markings and the indigenous people of Kurichiyarmala, the hill range where it was found, according to the study published in the journal PeerJ. However, A kurichiyana is not only a new species to science.
- It is the sole member of an ancient lineage, a long branch on the frog tree of life that researchers have classified as a new subfamily, Astrobatrachinae.
- This is an oddball frog — it has no close sister species for maybe tens of millions of years,” said David Blackburn, the associate curator of herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History in the US.
- With frogs, there are still ancient lineages out there awaiting discovery. This gives us one more puzzle piece to think about deep time,” Blackburn said in a statement.
- Dark brown with a bright orange underbelly and speckled with pale blue dots, the frog camouflages well in wet leaf litter, and only a few individuals have been found.
- The colouration was the first thing that stood out to me, these starry patterns with a blue tinge, said Seenapuram Palaniswamy Vijayakumar, lead author of the species description and now a postdoctoral fellow at George Washington University in the US.
- However, the starry dwarf frog nearly got overlooked in the crush of new species that Vijayakumar and his then-doctoral supervisor Kartik Shanker were finding on a series of expeditions to the Western Ghats, a 1,600-kilometres-long mountain range along India’s southwestern coast.
- Western Ghats also known as Sahyadri (Benevolent Mountains) is a mountain range that covers an area of 140,000 km² in a stretch of 1,600 km parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula, traverse the States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
- It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the eight "hottest hot-spots" of biological diversity in the world.
- It is sometimes called the Great Escarpment of India.