Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Creature Feature: Purple Burrowing Frog.

With the exception of designer reptiles, it's really hard to color-coordinate things with animals. Purple is particularly rare in nature, despite it allowing creatures to blend in with flora. In some cases, however, it just makes us humans wonder what nature was on.

Why this purple burrowing frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis) is, well, purple, is a complete mystery. It is native to southern India and feeds exclusively on underground insects. Although numbers in the wild are still unknown, we are currently working under the assumption that the frog is endangered.

For the record, nobody seems to know exactly why this frog is purple. It does not seem to be camouflage; this frog spends 90% of its time underground. The color is actually the least interesting thing about the purple burrowing frog, in any case.

Since its (re)discovery in 2003, the frog was treated as being in its own family. Looking at skeletal evidence tells otherwise. Looking at fossil evidence, the purple burrowing frog looks very similar to the extinct Seychelles frogs, which were last seen 120 million years ago on Gondawanaland. The purple frog would have evolved independently from there; in other words, the purple frog is a living fossil. Always cool to have more of those. 

So, how did this frog evade scientists for so long? Short answer: It didn't. Almost a century before the adults were discovered in 2003, the tadpoles had been described in 1918. These are weird little buggers with suckers to help them deal with turbulent river currents. The adult frog was not visible at that time, so the chubby purple freak did not go on record until recently. 

The reason for the delay is that the adult frogs spend their whole adult lives underground. They surface only to mate in monsoon season. Otherwise, they're feeding on underground insects (particularly termites). Locals and lesser herpetologists had already known of the frog for decades; scientific literature had a hard time catching up. I guess "pig-faced purple frog" just sounded too crazy for them.

Found on Wikipedia. License unclear.

By the way, if you happen to see two purple frogs getting it on? The male is on top of the female, and he is tiny.

Unfortunately, this bizarre frog is also highly endangered. Less than 200 have been found by science. The main actual risk lies in deforestation. There is a very low chance that these frogs will be bred in captivity, although no doubt scientists are trying. If they get popular enough, they might even get their own color shade.

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