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14 New “Dancing Frogs” Discovered in India

Fourteen new species of tiny “dancing frogs” have been discovered in the jungles of western India, scientists report.

The spectacular haul more than doubles the number of Indian dancing frogs, a family named for the bizarre courtship displays of their foot-waving males, to 24 species. (Also see “Pictures: Meowing Night Frog, Other New Species Found.”)

A photo of a dancing frog
One of the new dancing frogs, Micrixalus kottigeharensis. Photograph by S. D. Biju, Systematics Lab

The diminutive amphibians—which measure 13 to 35 millimeters long—were found during a decade-long search across the Western Ghats, a mountain range that extends north-south across India for 990 miles (1,600 kilometers).

The study was led by India’s frog discoverer-in-chief, University of Delhi professor Sathyabhama Das Biju, whose numerous past finds include the extraordinary purple frog. (Related: “Weird Purple Frog Seduces Females From Underground.”)

Identified using both physical features and analysis of molecular DNA markers, the frogs are described by Biju and his team in the latest issue of the Ceylon Journal of Science (Biological Sciences).

Watch a video of dancing frogs.

Their findings reveal that the new frogs belong to an ancient genus named Micrixalus, which has been hopping about since the dinosaur era.

Foot-Flaggers

Associated with the falls and splash zones of small, fast-flowing streams, dancing frogs’ small size—the tiniest new find is no bigger than a bee—and perfect camouflage make them extremely hard to spot, Biju said. (Also see “World’s Smallest Frog Found—Fly-Size Beast Is Tiniest Vertebrate.”)

But following the annual monsoon, when the frogs’ rain forest streams reach the ideal level for breeding, “it is relatively easy to find them,” he said.

A photo of a new species of dancing frog.
A close-up of the newfound frog Micrixalus nelliyampathi. Photograph by S. D. Biju, Systematics Lab

Most noticeable were the males, which in the case of at least nine of the newfound species advertised themselves to potential mates with a bizarre display known as foot-flagging.

This involves the frog stretching a hind leg out from its body and waving a fully extended webbed foot. On occasions, the study team noted, the frog’s raised foot also came in handy for pushing rival males out of the way. (See video: “Frogs Shake Booties Before Fights.”)

Female dancing frogs also showed unusual behavior when it came to laying their eggs, Biju said.

“In some species, eggs are laid in a cavity that the female digs with the help of her hind limbs at the bottom of shallow-flowing streams,” he said.

Having made the nest, the female then covers it with sand and gravel—probably to stop the eggs being washed away and to protect them from fish or other predators, Biju explained.

Striking Behavior

Leg waving or foot-flagging has been recorded in a number of unrelated frogs around the world, from Australia to Brazil, according to Walter Hödl of the Institute of Zoology at the University of Vienna in Austria.

A photo of a new species of Dancing Frog.
The new dancing frog Micrixalus kurichiyari. Photograph by S. D. Biju, Systematics Lab

The visual display likely evolved because the noise of rushing streams drowns out the frogs’ mating calls, Hödl said.

As for the females’ nest-digging, “it’s a really striking behavior,” but perhaps not surprising, Hödl added, because “frogs that breed in creeks and streams have to hide their eggs somehow.”

Hödl also agreed with the study team’s view that the new finds mark the Western Ghats as a global biodiversity hot spot for frogs and other amphibians.

“It’s an area which has been underexplored, certainly compared to places like the Amazon and Central America,” he said.

Last Dance?

Biju, the so-called frog man of India, is concerned about the impact of habitat loss caused by farming and other human activities on his latest discoveries.

“Over the last 12 years of my field studies on the dancing frogs, I have noticed fewer number of frogs in areas where they used to be abundant,” he said. “Habitats of many species are drastically depleting or being modified.” (See pictures of the world’s vanishing amphibians.)

Several of the new species were recorded only at a single location, Biju noted, while 30 percent of dancing frog species are found only in areas that aren’t protected by the government.

So for some of these unique amphibians, it could be their last dance.

Comments

  1. Pati
    June 28, 8:10 am

    I think that frogs should be given privacy when they are having sex. Are you not aware that some animals want privacy during their intimate moments?
    Animals do not exist for our entertainment. Has National Geographic gotten into froggie porn?

  2. Sharmita Paul
    Calcutta,INDIA
    June 24, 5:29 am

    India is so called the Archetype of the world – so much diversity & so many thousand types of different Flora & Fona, in every 10 to 100 miles of the country.
    yes, i also think, one of the reason may be the geographical attachment to the African continent with it.

  3. Amer Yousif
    Toronto , Canada
    June 24, 1:13 am

    The world is full with surprises which we don’t know it yet, thank for the scientists who discover always a new things.

  4. Regina
    Kansas, USA
    June 23, 3:14 pm

    I think 1 reason we don’t see these frogs, they had said 1 was the size of a bee. I would never have thought a frog would be so tiny. Should I ever go to India (no chance there, I am sure) I would have to be led to see these incredible frogs!

  5. terence galland
    United Kingdom
    June 23, 3:10 pm

    amazing that the frogs are senior to the human being in the ladder of evolution, the females look like they are blowing bubble gum, how about the bubble gum dancing frogs!

  6. StanleyC
    May 15, 9:25 pm

    More like Stretching Frogs

  7. neer div bankoti
    haldwani uttrakhand india
    May 15, 3:01 am

    what is the reason that western ghats have so much species of frogs ..
    is the monsoon and the geogrphy and vegetation reason for this.. was they originated here or frog was since then when the indian subcontinent was separeted from african continent ?

  8. David Adams
    new hampshire
    May 14, 10:54 pm

    Prince Frogs dancing like Jackie Gleason !

  9. Diane
    Canada
    May 14, 5:01 pm

    Fascinating. We are hearing more and more of new species being discovered. Not long ago there were many found in Vietnam, as I recall. Who knows what other wonders there are to be found. Good work!

  10. marjan nijen twilhaar
    nederland
    May 14, 11:42 am

    ik heb van dit filmpje genoten ik heb zelf ook allemaal pijl gif kikkers echt rustgevend.

  11. Stanislas
    Kazakhstan, Almaty
    May 14, 5:57 am

    I suppose that not only these frogs but all creatures are unique link in evolution, do not think you so?

  12. H. S. Narayan
    USA
    May 13, 7:43 am

    Even frogs are not immune from Bollywood’s influence :-)

  13. Mark Thompsom
    May 12, 1:28 pm

    Thanks you for the information James.

  14. James Owen
    May 12, 1:15 pm

    Hi Gautami & Mark,

    Thanks for your interesting questions. I have conferred with frog man of India and study author, S D Biju, who answers thus:

    Q – Do these frogs dance at night?
    SDB – Normally the courtship behavior (foot flagging and vocalization) in the dancing frogs only takes place during daytime. This group of frogs does not show much activity at night like other frogs.

    Q – How long does the male have to perform his dance ritual to get a female?
    SDB – The ratio of male to female is extremely less (more males and very few females). Therefore all the males may not be lucky every time even after advertisement and dancing (foot flagging). But once a male mounts on the back of a female he is usually successful in mating. How long it would take him to please the female can depend on a number of factor which cannot be quantified.

  15. Gautami Dutt
    May 12, 6:44 am

    Frogs shaking their legs! That is really funny! How long does the male have to perform his dance ritual to get a female?

  16. Mark Thompsom
    May 12, 4:01 am

    Its amazing to see the frogs dance.

    I have heard that frogs are nocturnal. Do these frogs dance at night ??

    I wish to see them in the wild.

  17. Manish Kumar
    May 12, 3:30 am

    Amazing discovery by scientists. I enjoyed the video of these dancing frogs. The part where female digs to burrow the eggs is wonderful. Keep up the good work!

  18. Pranay Sharma
    May 12, 3:20 am

    Wow !! Great News… 14 species (great effort) ….. make me wonder how much biodiversity we have on our planet…!!!!!!

  19. Raj
    India
    May 12, 3:06 am

    WOW! This is so fascinating….enjoyed seeing the frogs dance! Very nice name too…’dancing frogs’. How come so many species remained hidden to us…and now when they are found, we realise they are threatened! Really sad. Thanks James Owen for sharing this news with us.

  20. Krishna
    May 10, 11:24 am

    Very interesting. Cant wait to see whats next.