Fourteen new species of dancing frogs — so named because of the unique kicks they use to attract mates — have been found in the mountains of southern India.
Biologists say they found the tiny acrobatic amphibians, which earned their name with the unusual kicks they use to attract mates, declining dramatically in number during the 12 years in which they chronicled the species through morphological descriptions and molecular DNA markers.
The study listing the new species – published Thursday in the Ceylon Journal of Science – brings the number of known Indian dancing frog species to 24.
They breed after the yearly monsoon in fast-rushing streams, but their habitat appears to be becoming increasingly dry.
"It\’s like a Hollywood movie, both joyful and sad. On the one hand, we have brought these beautiful frogs into public knowledge. But about 80 percent are outside protected areas, and in some places, it was as if nature itself was crying," said the project\’s lead scientist, University of Delhi professor Sathyabhama Das Biju.
He acknowledged that his team\’s observations about forest conditions were only anecdotal; the scientists did not have time or resources to collect data demonstrating the declining habitat trends they believed they were witnessing.
They are found exclusively in the Western Ghats, a lush mountain range that stretches 1,600km from the western state of Maharashtra down to the country\’s southern tip.
Only the males dance – it is actually a unique breeding behaviour called foot-flagging.
The bigger the frog, the more they dance. They also use those leg extensions to smack away other males – an important feature considering the sex ratio for the amphibians is usually about 100 males to one female.
"They need to perform and prove, \’Hey, I\’m the best man for you,\’" said Biju, a botanist-turned-herpetologist now celebrated as India\’s "Frogman\’" for discovering dozens of new species in his four-decade career.
The Western Ghats, older than the Himalayas, is among the world\’s most biologically exciting regions, holding at least a quarter of all Indian species.
In recent decades, the region has faced a constant assault by iron and bauxite mining, water pollution, unregulated farming and loss of habitat to human settlements.
A 2010 report by India\’s Environment Ministry also said the Ghats were likely to be hard-hit by changing rainfall patterns due to climate change.