I have been interested in frogs for as long as I can remember. In fact during the monsoons, growing up in Mumbai city, I would spend every evening catching frogs in my backyard (the numbers soon dwindled after my building floor was concretized). Soon my interest in wildlife took me to the northeast India where I got to see some incredibly beautiful and unique frogs. However, frogs in the Western Ghats always held a special place in my heart. Having married another frog-crazy person has further fuelled this passion. In the last few years, Vishnu and I have traveled to many remote areas of the Ghats to observe these beautiful creatures. Most of these frogs are endemic being found in tiny, high-elevation pockets of the Ghats and nowhere else in the world. Many have been unknown to science till very recent times.
There have been three distinct phases of frog discoveries in the Western Ghats. The earliest frogs to be discovered were described by a European naturalist called George Albert Boulenger in the 1880s. The second round of discoveries were made by India’s own C. R. Narayan Rao in the 1930-40s. In fact, the genus of frogs - Raorchestes - is named after him. The third wave of discoveries is currently under way as scientists have begun to use genetic tools to distinguish lineages.
Raorchestes frogs, commonly called as Bush Frogs are one of the most diverse and colourful groups of amphibians in the Ghats. In 1882, Mr. Boulenger described one of the prettiest looking Bush Frogs from the Western Ghats, the Yellow-bellied Bush Frog Raorchestes flaviventris. However, the frog then disappeared from the scientific radar for 130 years. It was rediscovered very recently by Dr SP Vijaykumar in 2011. When we got a chance to visit a coffee farm at Valparai, locating the Yellow-bellied Bush Frog was on the top of our wish list. Although October is not the best season for amphibians, we knew that at least a few individuals will be active post-monsoon.
As Vishnu, Parvathi, Ankit, Omkar and I drove up the Ghats to this coffee farm, we began to sight wildlife in the tea plantations and forest fragments. A lone Gaur stood gazing towards the spectacular sunset (Photo) and a Booted Eagle soared in the skies overhead. We reached just in time to drink some overly sweet tea and headed out straight to look for some frogs.
Just like with bird-watching it is easy to identify and locate frogs by their calls, as every species makes a unique sound. Also, all frogs have their own niche and are loyal to a micro-habitat. First ones to appear in the low bushy undergrowths were a tiny Griet's Bush Frog Raorchestes griet and a Sushil's Bush Frog Raorchestes sushili. In the trees close to streams sat a few Anaimalai Gliding Frogs Rhacophorus pseudomalabaricus (Photo), glittering like emeralds even against the bright green foliage.
In the streams and the surrounding swampy areas squatted the brown and wrinkled Meowing Night Frogs Nyctibatrachus poocha and Anamalai Night Frogs Nyctibatrachus anamallaiensis (Photo).
As expected, very few frogs were actively calling this late into post-monsoon season. We therefore had to depend on ‘search-images’ of the frogs in our minds to spot these well camouflaged little creatures. A little while later, enroute to another small stream Vishnu suddenly screamed with joy!
She had just spotted a large-sized green coloured Bush Frog sitting on a cardamom plant on a steep slope. We tried getting closer for a photograph but before we could advance on our quarry the frog disappeared. Disappointed, we continued our quest and spotted a beautiful reptile called Large-scaled forest lizard Calotes grandisquamis (Photo). However, in my mind, I was still frustrated about the unidentified green frog, which could have well been the Yellow-bellied Bush Frog.
It was already 9:30pm and it was time to eat some dinner before we could continue searching again. So we turned our steps back with just a quick stop at the place where Vishnu had initially spotted that mystery Bush Frog. A little bit of searching, and surprise-surprise the frog was back on its perch!
This time we spotted two individuals. On a closer look, we realised that it was indeed a pair of Yellow-bellied Bush Frogs (Photo). Vishnu was immediately declared a hero and we all decided to call it a night as we had already traveled a lot since morning.
It is quite remarkable that human modified habitats like coffee farms can host such a diversity of rare frogs and we have much to discover as scientists.
Author: Shashank Dalvi
Shashank Dalvi’s interest in wildlife began in early childhood and now spans natural history, research, conservation and tourism. Shashank graduated with a MSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation from India’s leading wildlife program run jointly by the National Centre Biological Sciences and Wildlife Conservation Society-India program. He was instrumental in starting the Amur Falcon conservation program in Nagaland to save the species from severe hunting pressures which resulted in the total ban of hunting of Amur Falcons. With over 17 years of experience working on multiple research and conservation projects across India, Shashank has extensive expertise and knowledge about India’s wildlife and wild places. In 2015, he was the first person to complete a Big Year in India for birds and finished with a total of 1128 species. In 2016, he became the second Indian to describe a new species of bird to science in India, the Himalayan Forest Thrush.
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