C R Naik, is a local forest official at the Karaavali area of Karnataka. Sometime back, during one of his routine monitoring of biodiversity near his coastal village, the forester came across a sound that distinctly sounded familiar. It was the sound of a Kingfisher calling. What was peculiar though that the sound was not being made by a kingfisher. Naik immediately recorded the sound on his mobile phone and that recording has now lead to the discovery of a new species from Western Ghats – not a kingfisher, but a frog!
Naik was documenting the local birds, snakes and frogs in the vicinity of his village when he first heard the call. He, like many others including scientists who heard the call, thought that it was the sound of the kingfisher bird. But Naik soon realised that the call was being made by a frog. He recorded it immediately and played to an audience of scientists trying to convince that it was actually a frog that they were hearing.
Among the scientists was Seshadri K S who is currently pursuing his doctorate at the National University of Singapore. Intrigued by what Naik said, the researcher visited the coastal area himself and was soon rewarded not just by the sounds of the kingfisher mimicking frog but the amphibian itself.
And that is how, India now has a new frog species from the Western Ghats named the Karaavali skittering frog after the region where it has been discovered.
The Frog That Fooled Scientists
Seshadri K S is delighted to make this discovery but he says it’s a double delight because of the way C R Naik led them to this creature that was hiding in plain sight.
“Often, such scientific discoveries happen because there are foot soldiers like Mr Naik working hard in the field”, Seshadri observed. “Him being a forest official and making observations on nature makes this discovery special. We hope this discovery will inspire the staff of the forest departments and research is encouraged. By joining hands with researchers, Naik has come to the forefront of biodiversity conservation. Such efforts will [help to put] biological research in India on a par with [the rest] of the world.”
Naik is among the co-authors of a paper recently published in the December 2016 issue of Asian Herpetological Research, which brought the Karaavali skittering frog discovery to the attention of the wider scientific community.
Dr Gururaj K V, the scientist who analysed the bioacoustics of the call says that Naik was singularly responsible for bringing the attention to this new and unusual species. He says that after listening to the calls, everyone thought that it was that of white throated kingfisher however Naik was adamant that the call was that of the frog. When he was asked to send a video next, the forester soon brought the video evidence to confirm his sighting that no one believed could be true!
Listen to this
You can see and listen to the frog here…
And here’s what a white throated kingfisher sounds like…
Eerily similar! Isn’t it?
Dr. Gururaj says, “We were certain that the call was of a bird and [that] he was taking us for a ride; however, Mr Naik was adamant. We conceded that the call ought to be explored more and asked Naik to make a video next time he heard it. He immediately got to work and sent us short video clips and said this was a new species of frog.”
The citizen scientist is elated to be part of this discovery. Naik says,
“I am so happy that a new frog [has been] discovered from my native place and I am doubly delighted to be part of this discovery. I am thankful for the entire team of scientists who took trusted in me. This discovery has motivated me and I will continue making observations, not only about frogs, but in other [areas of] natural history. Such observations can help in creating awareness among citizens about nature.”
The fate of this fascinating species though now entirely lies in the hands of conscious citizens like Naik who live in the area as the next challenge for them could be to save this frog from the claws of urban development.
The team found the frog to inhabit 3 places in Karnataka and they fear that it is already threatened due to the construction sites under development in the nearby areas that might soon swipe out the paddy fields where the frog was found. The scientists have recommended that the frog be classified as Endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list.
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Video clip of Karaavali skittering frog is part of Supplementary video clip of the article published in Asian Herpetological Research 2016, 7(4): 229–241; DOI: 10.16373/j.cnki.ahr.160020