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sibi arasu | Updated on August 27, 2014

No, not diddly-squat... The purple frog knows what lies above and beneath the ground   -  SD Biju

A peek into the life and times of the Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis aka the purple frog, on the verge of extinction

Let’s begin at the beginning.

So they say our ancestors have been around since the Mesozoic era or the time when dinosaurs were frolicking about. They also say that our closest relative, the Sooglossidae, live more than 3,000km away, in what are now the islands of Seychelles and Madagascar. Some of them ended up catching a really long cruise across the high seas, and by long I mean a journey that lasted millions of years. It was during that time that the Indian landmass came into its own, developing its own distinct biomes within which new varieties of flora and fauna emerged. By the time it ended up where it is now, we too had found our own identity.

Although we’re similar to our Seychellois cousins, we also possess characteristics that are unique — the lack of toe discs and our much larger size, for example. While our brethren grow up to a maximum of a centimetre or so, at full size, we can be as large as 7cm. What happened to us apparently makes a strong case for what is called the biotic ferry model of evolution. I believe we’re also the missing link between the old- and new-world frogs. Since barely 135 of us have been spotted so far, including only three females, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has put us on the Red List of Threatened Species. What can I say, times are tough. It’s surprising though that we were found a decade ago; most anurans were discovered a couple of centuries ago. I guess we slipped through the gaps somehow. Anyways, I diverge.

The beginning for me is when my mother and father met by the side of this gurgling stream in Idukki, Kerala, my father riding on my mother’s back with the aid of sticky secretions and, you know, doing their thing. All this might not have been seen by anybody, mostly because my mother is not more than 10cm and my dad is even smaller, about 7cm or so. It did happen though, and I am the living proof of it.

Even as a tiny tadpole, resilience has always been one of my strengths. My suctorial mouth lets me hang onto rocks and stones, preventing strong currents from washing me away. If I’d known the Bee Gees then, I would have probably been humming, Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. The point is, I made it through the ebbs and flows of the tide, and before you can say Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, I was on my way to becoming a fully-grown purple frog.

I might be wrong, but I’m four years old now, more than halfway through my life. In these years, I’ve seen many things from top and bottom. What I’ve seen underground, I can’t really talk about here, as I don’t think human beings can comprehend them. Maybe, if more people like Dr SD Biju and his group, Lost Amphibians of India, continue observing us, one day, I can talk about what we do down under. Until then, let’s just stick to the surface.

In my four years of existence, I’ve seen the world from above for only about two months, give or take some. This might be difficult for you to imagine, but we’re essentially subterranean creatures and come up only to procreate. We burrow our way up before the first monsoon showers, and like my dad and every other male in my species, I too go, “RRRAAAK,” in the hope of attracting a pretty woman, hopefully, a fleshy round one. And I have to say, I haven’t done too badly.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not gloating, but my stubby limbs, protruding snout, bloated body and tiny eyes are as fine as any other purple frog I know. But since there are only a few females left, come rains, it’s always a race to determine who gets to jiggy with whom. Despite the jiggying, we’re a rare species. But I’m sure there are more of us in this world. I’m told we live in the Western Ghats, in Parambikulam, Annamalai, Nilgiris and Cardamom Hills.

Here, in my neck of the woods, I hope to see a few more monsoons and finish that burrow. Missing link or not, I also hope my tadpoles see many pre-monsoons of their own.

(Information courtesy Dr SD Biju and team, Systematics Lab, University of Delhi.)

Published on May 16, 2014

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