Singapore, Indian researchers discover new frog species

SINGAPORE, March 10 (Xinhua) -- Researchers from India and National University of Singapore (NUS) have discovered a new species of narrow-mouthed frog in the laterite rock formations in India's coastal plains, announced NUS in a press release on Thursday.

The newly-discovered frog is pale brown with prominent black markings on its dorsum, hands, feet and flanks. It has a call that can be easily mistaken for that of a cricket.

The frog was named "Microhyla laterite (M. laterite)" after its natural habitat. Seshadri K S, a Ph.D. student from the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science who led the research team, said they hope to draw attention to the endangered rock formations by naming the frog after its habitat.

The tiny frog, which is around 1.6 centimeters, only the size of a thumbnail, was spotted in laterite habitats in and around the coastal town of India's Manipal. These rocky areas, usually devoid of trees and other vegetation, are classified as wastelands, which are often used for dumping activities and are heavily mined for construction materials.

To ensure the validity of the frog as a new species, Seshadri and his team members studied the genes, body structure, coloration and vocalizations of four individual frogs. They also compared the results with data of closely related species.

Based on preliminary assessments, the research team suggested M. laterite to be classified as Endangered under the guidelines of the Red List by International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN), as the geographic range of the frog is narrow, within an area of 150 square kilometers in southwest India.

"In spite of its geological heritage, laterite areas in India receive very little protection from any legislation. Given the threats these fragile habitats are facing, there is a strong imperative to conserve them," said Ramit Singal, independent researcher who first spotted the frog and brought it to the attention of Seshadri.

Since M. laterite appears to be restricted to laterite rock formations along the coast, the researchers intend to conduct further research to determine the evolutionary ecology of the frog, and to test for an association with laterite formations.