The Ornate Narrow-Mouthed Frog
During the monsoon, the birdlife becomes a bit subdued since many of the birds migrate. And if it’s a really rainy day, then even the resident species seem to disappear!
The monsoons turn the dry plateau into a bog. You can’t walk around without gum boots. Within days, everything turns a bright green and the place is almost unrecognisable.
This, however, is a great time to spot amphibians. In the rainy season I usually make night trips to the plateau. The first time I visited the plateau at night was to look for snakes. I didn’t find any, but was delighted by the cacophony of frog calls!
I never imagined finding frogs in the area since the plateau is bone dry for around seven months a year, during which not a single frog can be seen here. How do the frogs turn up in the monsoons? The closest place to find water is a stream downhill, at least a couple of kilometres away. Do the frogs burrow and hibernate in the soil during the dry season? Or do they actually migrate from downhill every year? And if they do, why do they make such an arduous journey?
Unfortunately, all I know is that every monsoon they are there. And they are very difficult to find!Don’t get me wrong, you can hear plenty of them calling, all within a few metres of you. You’d think that would be easy to find the source of the deafening calls but you’d be wrong! The first time I went up to the plateau, it took me over 30 minutes of searching with a flashlight to actually find one.
Photograph by Rahul Alvares.
When I did finally find one, I realised why it had taken me so long: the noisy croaker was only a little bigger than my fingernail! I had imagined that only a much larger amphibian would be able to produce such an ear-splitting call.
J.C. Daniel’s The Book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians mentions that ‘though the call is startlingly loud for an animal of its size, it is a ventriloquist (a person who can speak or utter sounds so that they seem to come from somewhere else) and makes finding the location of the small frog sitting in the midst of grass or among stones extremely difficult.’ (Another reason why I had probably found it so hard to find one!)
The tiny frog was not only hard to find, but difficult to photograph as well. Photographing it while it was sitting in its natural surroundings was extremely tough as the little amphibian is a champion jumper and usually leapt away before I could get a decent shot!
In the end, I had to ask a friend of mine to hold one in her hand. Incidentally, the only way for her to get a secure grip on the slimy little frog was by holding one of its hind limbs to stop it from slipping away.
Photograph by Rahul Alvares.
Surprisingly, the tiny amphibian soon settled down in my friend’s hand so comfortably, that after a while it inflated its throat sac and actually started croaking again!
Back home, my herp buddies correctly identified the little amphibian as the ornate narrow-mouthed frog Microhyla ornata. Apparently, this is one of India’s smallest amphibians. It is a beautiful bronze-gold colour with vividly patterned skin and a dark brown band running through the eyes along the sides. A further search in the little pools of water that collect on the plateau revealed little tadpoles zipping around. I couldn’t tell what species they belonged to, but if I had to guess I’d say they were the babies of the little frogs.
Even though I still don’t know where the little frogs turn up from every monsoon, at least now I know why they sing their heads off every rainy night!
by Rahul Alvares, First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, January 2013.