The discovery of the family Nasikabatrachidae―the purple frog family―is hailed as 'a once-in-a-century find', as the last time a new amphibian family was discovered was way back in 1926.
S.D. Biju is a renowned amphibian biologist and wildlife conservationist from India. Such has been his work in this field, especially with frogs, that he is fondly known as the 'frogman of India'. Biju has formally described several new species of amphibians; the purple frog being one of them.
Purple Frog Facts
✦ The purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis) is a frog species endemic to the Western Ghats in India. It is also known as the Indian purple frog or pig-nosed frog. This species is the lone member of the Nasikabatrachus genus as well as the Nasikabatrachidae family. Its distant relatives happen to be the Seychelles frogs of the family Sooglossidae.
✦The relationship between the Nasikabatrachidae family and the Sooglossidae family suggests that they evolved around 130 million years ago, before the Seychelles and Madagascar broke away from the Indian landmass.
✦ The scientific name of the purple frog family, Nasikabatrachus, is a combination of the Sanskrit word nasika (meaning nose), referring to its pointed snout, and the Greek word batrachus (meaning frog). Similarly, the word sahyadrensis is derived from the local name of the mountain range they inhabit.
✦ In October 2003, S.D. Biju and his colleague Franky Bossuyt, a biologist at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, formally described the species from specimen collected in the Idukki district of Kerala. Previously, in 1917, Nelson Annandale and C.R. Narayan Rao had described the tadpoles of this species.
✦ The purple frog can be easily identified by its dark purplish-gray color, bloated body, and stubby legs. It has a small head and an unusual pointed snout, thus, the name pig-nosed frog. Its snout helps the species to burrow. The species is sexually dimorphic, with the females being larger than the males.
✦ This species is found in the Western Ghats, a tropical forest-covered mountain range that runs parallel to the western coast of India. Its geographic range extends from the Camel's Hump Range to the Agasthyamalai Hill Range in Kerala. Interestingly, the Western Ghats feature in the list of hottest biodiversity hotspots in the world.
✦ One of the most peculiar facts about the pig-nosed frog is its tendency to remain underground for most part of the year. It is only known to surface for about two weeks during the monsoon season for the purpose of mating. If the species was discovered only in 2003, it was because of its reclusive nature and restricted range.
✦ The species can only burrow in damp, loose soil. Despite its robust size, this frog can easily burrow in the ground completely in 4 - 5 minutes. As opposed to this, if it is placed on a hard surface, it prefers to take cover instead of burrowing.
✦ Most burrowing species of frogs come to the surface for feeding, but the purple frog remains underground, feeding on termites, ants, and small worms that it comes across in its habitat. It has a specially adapted tongue which helps it suck termites inside its mouth. Also, its snout is sensitive to touch, which comes handy, as the species is known to burrow 3.7 m deep at times.
✦The purple frog is threatened by habitat loss, resulting from deforestation for coffee and cardamom plantations in the region. It has been enlisted as an 'endangered species' in the Red List compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Sadly, facts about the purple frog are as elusive as the creature itself. Whatever little is known about it comes from the 135 specimen that have been studied so far. The lack of information is adversely affecting the species, by making it difficult for conservationists to formulate proper conservation measures. In the absence of conservation plans in their hour of crisis, this species will definitely have a tough time trying to survive. Worse of all, because of its reclusive nature, it will be years before we realize that the frog has become extinct ... if at all.