If you're ever visiting India's Western Ghats mountains during monsoon season, you may luck out and meet the newest member of the frog species. But you'll have to keep your eyes peeled. They're shy.
Dubbed Bhupathy's purple frog (Nasikabatrachus bhupathi) in memory of Indian herpetologist Subramaniam Bhupathy (who died during an expedition in 2014), the weird-but-somehow-still-cute creature sports sleek purple skin, a pig-like snout and blue-ringed eyes, as described in the journal Alytes.
While you may think this funny-looking critter isn't suited to surviving in mountains during monsoons, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, even as tadpoles, Bhupathy's purple frog thrives in the environment.
The frog and the monsoon
Bhupathy's purple frog spends its adult life underground, Elizabeth Prendini, a herpetologist at the American Museum of Natural History and co-author of the Alytes paper, explained to National Geographic. Burrowed as it is, the frog uses a long tongue to gobble up ants and termites it finds crawling underground.
The only thing that will coax these frogs from their underground existence is a monsoon. When the monsoon season begins, males of the species let loose with loud croaking sounds intended to draw the attention of females. The female deposits eggs near a mountain stream. After the eggs are fertilized and hatch, something unusual happens.
You've probably seen frog tadpoles before. They're those squirmy bulbs with tails that swim around in bodies of water, waiting to mature into frogs. Bhupathy's purple frog tadpoles aren't interested in swimming, however. These tadpoles have suckerfish-like mouths and use them to latch onto nearby rocks behind waterfalls created by monsoons. While attached to the rocks, the tadpoles eat algae.
After about 120 days of clinging to a rock in a deluge of water, the frogs detach and make their way underground to lead the rest of their lives.
"This is the longest the species appears above ground during its entire lifetime," Karthikeyan Vasudevan, one of the study's co-authors, told National Geographic.
Distant familial relation
Bhupathy's purple frog isn't alone in its appearance. It has a cousin that was discovered in 2003, the purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis).
Like Bhupathy's, this purple frog is also found in India, but both of their closest relatives are more likely to be found located northeast of Madagascar, on the Seychelles islands. These far-flung relatives mean that both species of purple frogs have been evolving independently of other frogs for millions of years, finding ways to survive in environments that their ancestors may never have faced.