For the first time since the 19th century, an enigmatic species of egg-eating tree frog was found in the wild in the mountains of northeastern India . The hidden diversity of this group of tree frogs is described in PLOS ONE by a team of scientists including Indian amphibian biologist Sathyabhama Das Biju, also known as the ” Indian frog man”
Biju and his team conducted fieldwork from 2007 to 2010 in four Northeast Indian states during the monsoon season in order to reveal the potentially extinct Jerdon tree frog. This research not only led to the rediscovery of this tree frog, but the molecular evidence and morphological collected in these expeditions showed that this group of frogs is actually much more diverse than previously thought and justifies the creation of a new genus, Frankixalus.
Jerdon tree frogs in this study were found living in water-filled tree holes in humid evergreen forests. “This genus probably went unnoticed due to its secret life in the tall hollows of the canopy trees,” says Biju. Tadpoles were found in some of the tree holes and dissected to see what their diets looked like. The researchers were a little surprised to find their entrails full of eggs, which means that these tadpoles are apparently consuming eggs laid by females of the same species.
Biju thinks female frogs return to tree holes to lay unfertilized eggs to feed tadpoles, a rare form of parental care in amphibians. This behavior has not yet been observed in this group of frogs, but the fact that the females have a ‘fleshy’ cloacal tube extension seems to indicate the need for targeted egg laying.
Frankixalus could potentially be in danger of survival due to human destruction of its fragile habitat. Biju notes: “since the new genus exhibits remarkable parental care behavior with specific microhabitat requirements for survival, populations discovered in highly disturbed forests already face threats of extinction.”Where these frogs were found in northeast India is a place for a practice called “jhumming”, similar to cutting and burning the destruction of forests to grow crops.