Frogs have been around for 300 million years and have survived some very harsh conditions on earth. Yet in their greatest test of survival, they appear to be failing, unable to defend themselves against the changes wrought on this earth by humans and human activities; activities that are destroying the frog’s habitats, changing their environment often so swiftly, that there is isn’t enough time for them to adapt.
Frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians are different types of amphibians of which frogs and toads are the ones that are most familiar to us. I wonder how many have seen a caecilian in the wild. The other day, my 27 year-old niece was thrilled to see a tamarind tree for the first time in her life. She studied biology till class 12 and went on to graduate in biotechnology and yet the tamarind tree was new to her. This being so, it is too much to expect to see a caecilian! It is also highly probable that many may have passed it in the forest without a second glance, mistaking it for an earthworm. If you are a fan of PG Wodehouse you have probably been introduced to the newts through his hilarious novels featuring Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. But one doesn’t think like this when one has to study amphibians, do we? Amphibians generally mean, it’s all about frogs, their body parts, physiology, and metamorphosis. There are other ways of learning about frogs. From a perspective that is as important as knowing their physiology and reproduction. It is by looking at their diversity!
Amphibians are among the most endangered group of animals on the planet: nearly one-third of the world’s amphibian species, that is nearly 32 per cent are on the brink of extinction. There are many factors negatively affecting amphibians, which are all due to human activity – habitat destruction, infectious diseases, pollution and pesticides, climate change, invasive species, and over-harvesting for the pet and food trades are some of the reasons for the current status. As the human population spirals out of control, these threats will continue to grow, unless immediate action is taken. Frogs are one of the main indicators of habitat health. If you can’t hear them, be sure that you need to start worrying about the habitat you reside in.
Among the leading amphibian experts in India are Dr. SD Biju and his team from the Dept. of Environmental Studies, University of Delhi. This description on his website www.frogindia.org best highlights the recent discoveries in frog diversity of India – “We have been working on Indian amphibians for over two decades. Till now we have recognized over 100 new species. The first new species was published in 2001. We have formally described 42 new species (another 28 species in press/review), six new genera (three more in press), and one new family (one more in press). We usually put more emphasis on solving long-standing taxonomic issues and describing new species… groups using both morphological traits and molecular evidence.”
The author is a consultant for science and environment education. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.