In the year 2015, while I was working on an Environment Impact Assessment project in the Western Ghats of India, my advisor Dr Gururaja pointed out the Kottigehar Dancing Frog (Micrixalus kottigeharensis
) to me.
I still remember that day quite vividly. We parked our car on the roadside. It wasn’t an easy place to park. There were huge potholes on the road and we had to scan the area before we found a safe place. The rains seemed to have subsided, however, there was still a light, steady drizzle. We walked a mile away from the road and reached a medium-flowing stream in a dense, canopy covered area. The sun was out by now. There were still some patchy grey clouds that diffused the sunlight and made for the perfect dance stage.
As I walked along the trail, I saw human litter - empty shampoo sachets, beer bottles and rags lying around, sullying the newly washed forest. According to Gururaja, there were dancing frogs calling in the streams. So, we decided to sit along the rocks and wait for the show. I quickly grabbed my camera and binocular to witness the spectacular dance. Gururaja kept asking me to hear the calls but my less-than-awesome hearing skills just couldn’t make out the feeble “keeri-keeri” croaks amidst the flowing stream.
With immense focus and concentration, after what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to see the white vocal sacs of the dancing frogs shine against the backdrop of forest green. And there it was, flashing at me! It stood on a rock approximately 10 meters away – calling out loud and occasionally extending its lower limb – a behavior that scientists call foot-flagging. I was spellbound by the frog’s performance - it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before!
On my way back, Gururaja told me about all the spectacular work that he had done on his paper on dancing frogs in the year 2014. Upon coming back from the field, I read up about the evolutionary uniqueness of the frog and that it had a very limited distribution, restricted to the state of Karnataka in India.
Today, most habitats of this particular frog lie outside the designated protected area boundaries. It is also known to reside in the relic forests with myristica swamps in Kathlekan, a protected area this frog calls home. Today, dancing frogs are facing threats just like the many other species that reside in the forests of the Western Ghats of India. Frogs, as we all know, are specialised animals that exhibit affinity towards particular habitat characteristics.
For dancing frogs, this could mean primary and secondary streams with high canopy cover. Knowing the fact that quantifying microhabitats could be a challenging task in ecological studies, I have decided to take up this challenge. In my project with the EDGE of Existence program, I explore the habitat characteristics of this frog and also look at the potential species distribution in the state of Karnataka.
Currently, very little is known about the presence of these species and the threats they are facing. Looking at the habitats during my preliminary surveys, I am certain that the growing human population, associated anthropogenic litter and the pressures of infrastructure development in a rapidly developing country like India are hugely worrisome. There is no conservation action plan in place for this species.
I plan to scientifically study major threats for my EDGE species and chalk out necessary solutions that could help in the survival and longevity of the frog’s population. With my EDGE project, I also plan to bridge the knowledge gap between local communities, scientists and other key stakeholders and bring them together to conserve critical amphibian habitats.
In my opinion, the Kottigehar Dancing Frog has the potential to be designated as the target species for the conservation of all amphibian habitats in India. If I were to help make this possible, I shall sleep in a blissful peace, listening to the croaks and caws of these so-called ugly species that have swept me off my feet! I must say, that I cannot ask for more than an opportunity to scientifically study this unique species with the help of Fondation Segre.
By EDGE Fellow Madhushri Mudke
This article was first published in ZSL.