Researchers have found 12 previously unknown species of "night frogs" living in the remote rain forests of western India, according to a new study in the journal Zootaxa. They've also rediscovered three other species that hadn't been seen for decades.
Night frogs, named for their nocturnal lifestyle, are a mysterious group of amphibians native to rain forests in the Western Ghats mountain range. They're extremely hard to find, the Associated Press reports, and not just because they're nocturnal — they also only come out during monsoon season, since they need either fast-moving streams or a wet forest floor to reproduce.
Still, the researchers are hoping these reclusive creatures can help popularize two important causes: protection of the Western Ghats ecosystem, considered one of the planet's top biodiversity hotspots, and protection of amphibian species in general, since 32 percent are threatened with extinction worldwide. "Frogs are extremely important indicators not just of climate change, but also [of] pollutants in the environment," lead researcher Sathyabhama Das Biju, a University of Delhi biologist, tells the AP. At least six of the new species live in fragile, unprotected habitats, he adds, and may be threatened.
"Unfortunately in India, conservation has basically focused on the two most charismatic animals — the elephant and the tiger," Biju says. "For amphibians there is little interest, little funding, and frog research is not easy."
Biju and his colleagues have spent years trudging through dark, muddy forests in search of the night frogs, many of which are found only in small pockets of the Western Ghats. But their effort has paid off: They confirmed the 12 new species both by description and genetics, and also found that some reproduce without males and females ever making physical contact. In those species, a female lays eggs on a leaf and the male drops by later to fertilize them — but, as Wired reports, both parents are "active guardians" for the eggs, bringing them water and fending off predators.
With the 12 new night frogs, Biju's team has now discovered 45 species in the Western Ghats over the past eight years. And on top of those 12 — which include such oddities as the meowing night frog and the "monster"-sized Wayanad night frog — the scientists also rediscovered the Coorg night frog, which hadn't been seen since 1920, as well as the Kempholey night frog and the forest night frog, which hadn't been seen for the past 75 years. Check out five of the photos here:
Meowing night frog, Nyctibatrachus poocha
Wayanad night frog, Nyctibatrachus grandis
Coorg night frog, Nyctibatrachus sanctipalus
Forest night frog, Nyctibatrachus sylvaticus
Kempholey night frog, Nyctibatrachus kempholeyensis