Last seen in the wild in 1870, Frankixalus jerdoniii, a golf-ball sized amphibian, was believed extinct until rediscovered by biologist Dr Sathyabhama Das Biju, affectionately nicknamed ‘the frog man of India’. ‘It was late in the evening immediately after some sporadic rain showers,’ recalls Biju. ‘From high up in the canopy we heard some distinct frog calls. At the time we didn’t know what species we were looking at.’
The jerdonii genus demonstrates some unusual characteristics: ‘It’s unique because it spawns into water-filled tree holes in the canopy,’ says Biju. According to his observations, the mother tree frog feeds her tadpoles (pictured below) her own unfertilised eggs until they turn into froglets. ‘This rare form of parental care behaviour is the first of its kind seen in India,’ he continues. Having now been officially reclassified, it is hoped that researchers will find it in much greater numbers across a wide area from India to Thailand.
“We don’t know the full extent of what we are losing”
While the rediscovery is a success for biologists, it is still rare for an amphibian to return from presumed extinction. According to a recent study by the University of Copenhagen, around 50 per cent of all known amphibian species are endangered due to environmental stressors such as climate change, habitat destruction and disease.
‘Amphibians have permeable skins and a biphasic life,’ says Biju. ‘That means that during the first half of their lifespan, before metamorphosis, they are completely dependent on water or moisture.’ According to his research, even small changes in the ecosystem are enough to wipe out entire species from an area: ‘this can be true for other life forms, many of which are still not discovered.’ For Biju, rediscovering the Frankixalus jerdonii underscores the need to protect habitats for known and as-yet unknown species. ‘We don’t know the full extent of what we are losing,’ he warns.
This was published in the March 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.