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A new burrowing frog discovered in Bengaluru could tell a lot about unexplored cityscapes

Read time: 4 mins
2 Feb 2021
A new burrowing frog discovered in Bengaluru could tell a lot about unexplored cityscapes

Bengaluru burrowing frog (Sphaerotheca bengaluru), the new frog species. [Image credits: Deepak P]

With lush-green forests rapidly becoming concrete jungles, the words of Sir David Attenborough, the British naturalist, rings loud. In a speech at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2019, he said, “The Garden of Eden is no more”. In the past century, we have been invading forests and other landscapes that are homes to thousands of animals and birds, to make them ours. We have significantly transformed the world into a new geological era—the age of humans or the Anthropocene. In a world where animals and birds are forsaking the noisy and polluted cities, how significant is the discovery of a new species amidst the chaos of our cities? When researchers discovered a new species of burrowing frog a month ago, it was definitely a reason to celebrate.

Croaking around in the cities, the Bengaluru burrowing frog (Sphaerotheca bengaluru), missed being sighted by herpetologists for years. While on their first amphibian exploration trip in the Deccan plateau, researchers from the Yuvaraja College, Mysore, Zoological Survey of India, West Bengal, Indian Institute of Science and Mount Carmel College in Bengaluru and National Museum of Natural History, France, discovered this frog. The discovery was published in the journal Zootaxa.

In recent years, Karnataka has been in the news for discoveries of new frog species. But none of them were from megacities like Bengaluru. “Historically, most amphibian studies in Karnataka have focused on forested areas, leaving the dry zones unexplored. Hence, our prime focus was to enumerate the diversity of frogs in these unexplored parts,” says Deepak. As part of the first amphibian survey, the researchers surveyed the Deccan Plateau regions of Karnataka for amphibians.

Burrowing frogs, as the name suggests, are commonly found in burrows alongside river banks and water bodies during summer. During the rains, they come out of their hiding holes for breeding.

“We encountered a new species of burrowing frog during one of our expeditions, but it took several field visits to understand its natural history,” says P. Deepak, the lead author of the study, on the discovery. He is an assistant professor at Mount Carmel College.

This new frog has been described from the Budumanahalli village of Bengaluru which falls under the Deccan plateau region of India. This species is known to occur in agricultural lands along with a sister species Sphaerotheca breviceps. With a body length of 4.7 cm (from the tip of their nose to the cloacal opening), the Bengaluru burrowing frog has a well built and stumpy body according to the researchers. It also has a dark brown back side with shades of orange and ornamented blotches which has a distinguishable pattern when compared to the sister species.

With vanishing water bodies, the future of frogs hang by a thread

Bengaluru burrowing frog (Sphaerotheca bengaluru) [Image credits: Deepak P]

Amphibians are cold-blooded, gentle, misunderstood animals who play a critical role in the ecosystem. “They are part of the food chain and also control pest populations, which is essential,” says Deepak.

They are one of the best indicators of a healthy ecosystem. So far, in India, 447 species of amphibians, including frogs, toads, salamanders and newts are recorded.

Rapidly expanding cities are threatening these life forms. Bengaluru, which once brimmed with green landscapes, lakes and ponds, providing a haven for many animals, is now a different city. Over the last fifty years, the city has lost about 40% of its green cover and a third of its water bodies.

“With rapid urbanisation, there is a loss of green cover and freshwater ponds, which is posing a threat to the existence of the anurans. Extensive field surveys in ecological perspective are required to understand these threats to anurans in Bengaluru,” opines Deepak.

The changing habitats are also pushing amphibians to adapt for their survival. The researchers speculate that the Bengaluru burrowing frog miraculously pulled it off and settled in the water bodies of Karnataka and survived. They point out that while there could be such successes, we still do not know the exact threats for these frogs in our cities and if they can thrive despite these threats.

“Further examinations and explorations are required to understand how these organisms are adapting to the rapidly changing environments,” points out Deepak.

With the biodiversity of the non-forested dry zones of Karnataka being less explored, the possibilities of finding more species from these landscapes are opening up. The recently found Bengaluru burrowing frog could thus hold a critical message about the ecosystem of our cities. urban life for granted.

“These amphibians need an immaculate and pristine habitat for their mere survival. This discovery can be an example that there is still a good faunal diversity despite the rapid urbanisation, and we can coexist with them,” signs off Deepak.