A new species of narrow-mouthed frog has just been discovered in a region of India that is littered with garbage and is mostly devoid of trees and other vegetation, a new study reports.
The thumbnail-sized frog, Microhyla laterite, proves that the region - nicknamed the Wastelands - has ecological significance. At present, the rocky area of southwest India is heavily used for garbage dumping and mining of laterite, a hard reddish material that forms brick-like blocks.
The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
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"By naming the frog after its habitat, we hope to draw attention to the endangered rock formations that are of ecological importance," lead author Seshadri Kadaba Shamanna of the National University of Singapore said in a press release. "M. laterite can potentially be used as a mascot to change peoples' perception about laterite areas."
Seshadri spotted the frog while conducting a field survey. It is remarkable that he found the small pale brown frog with black markings, because the amphibian measures only about half an inch long.
The frog has a call that can be easily mistaken for that of a cricket. It is considered to be narrow-mouthed because other frogs outside of the Microhyla genus tend to have bigger mouths.
DNA testing conducted by the researchers determined that the frog does, as they initially suspected, represent a new species.
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"One could easily confuse this frog with other species like Microhyla ornate, which is thought to occur all over India," co-author Priti Hebbar said. "However, it was evident from analyzing the genes that M. laterite is a distinct species, and is closely related to M. sholigari, which is found only in the Western Ghats (a mountain range in India)."
"All three species are small and similar in appearance and only a critical examination would reveal the differences."
The scientists believe that the newly found frog should be classified as endangered via the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In addition to discovering few of the frogs, the researchers say that the geographic range of the frog is very narrow. It appears to live only within an area of 93 square miles.
"Given the threats these fragile habitats are facing, there is a strong imperative to conserve them," co-author Ramit Singal said.