Discovering Endangered Thumbelina Frogs No Bigger Than A Rupee

Some of the smallest frogs known to man were recently discovered following a five-year survey in India. Scientists discovered the new species after exploring some of the more biodiverse forests and mountains of the country. The seven new species are part of the “night frogs" family, biologically referred to as the Nyctibatrachus genus. Four of the seven — which are among the tiniest frogs ever found — are capable of comfortably crouching on a Indian rupee of or a thumb nail, with room to spare.

Where have they been hiding?

These 'Thumbelina' night frogs are native to the Western Ghats mountain range, one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. The territory runs parallel to India’s western coast, covering an area measuring approximately 54,054 square miles.

The region is home to hundreds of species of animals and plants that are recognized as globally threatened, with 145 species listed as endangered and 51 as critically endangered, UNESCO reported in a site description.

How small is small?

The researchers’ study now affirms that the number of night frog species now totals 35, where this new group of 7 is definitely the smallest in size. Two of the seven actually measure between 0.5 and 0.6 inches.

N.webilla and N.athirappillyensis are slightly larger than their cousins at approximately 0.7 inches and 0.8 inches respectively, while the largest of the new finds, N.radcliffei, measured 1.5 inches.

"They were probably overlooked by researchers because of their extremely small size, secretive habitats and insect-like calls,” said Sonali Garg of The University of Delhi.

Anthropogenic Threats

However, no sooner were they found, reports surfaced that they were also endangered.

Thirty-two percent of the Western Ghats frogs are threatened with extinction, according to the study’s co-author, SD Biju, a biologist and head of the Systematics Lab with the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of Delhi, India.

“Out of the seven new species, five are facing considerable anthropogenic threats and require immediate conservation prioritization,” Biju said.

What’s next for these little wonders?

These new findings shine a critical light on the biodiversity of the Western Ghats as being seriously underestimated. It highlights the urgency of implementing conservation measures to protect threatened wildlife, and to preserve the habitats of "as-yet undiscovered species," the study authors wrote.

In general, scientific communities consider amphibians an important gauge of an ecosystem’s overall health, because they’re exposed to both air and water. Biju and his colleagues hope that their work will inspire and inform efforts to protect these animals, so like their larger ancestors they can live on for millenniums to come.

“Apart from big animals like [the] Tiger and elephants,” he told the Press Trust of India, “there is a need to conserve this tiny amphibian also as they have been ignored.”

How can you help? Well, Save The Frogs Day is the world's largest day of amphibian education and conservation action. Their goal is to provide people with educational materials, ideas and inspiration and empower them to educate their local communities about amphibians. Save The Frogs Day takes place annually on the last Saturday of April — this year you can save the date of April 29, 2017.

If you are planning a fundraiser or an event to help the plight of frogs, please sign up here.

Tiny Night Frogs