Three new species of little Horned frogs discovered from the jungles of Northeast India

(Common Warty Horned Frog | Systematics lab)

Kohima, May 06 (NE): A team of Irish and Indian biologists from the University College Dublin (Ireland), the Natural History Museum (UK), and University of Delhi (India) have discovered three new species of horned frogs from the remote forested Himalayan regions of Northeast India.

The scientists named two of the new species using words adapted from local tribal languages at their sites of discovery. The Naga Hills Horned Frog (Megophrys awuh), where the word “awuh” means “frog” in the Pochury language, the primary native tribe from the Melluri district of Nagaland state, and the Tamenglong Horned Frog (Megophrys numhbumaeng), where the name is derived from ‘nwmbwmaeng’ meaning “forest spirit” from the Rongmei (Ruangmei) language, the primary native tribe from the Tamenglong district of Manipur state. The third new species, the Dzükou Valley Horned Frog (Megophrys dzukou), was named after the only place that this potentially endangered new species was found that lies on the border of Nagaland and Manipur states.

(Dzükou Horned Frog | Systematic lab)

The discovery was made when the biologists were investigating a group of small species of horned frogs from Northeast India. “Horned frogs” (species in the genus Megophrys) are so named for the fleshy horn-like projection on the upper eyelids of some species.

The Little Karen Hills Horned Frog (M. parva, from eastern Myanmar) was named in 1893, but for well over a century, up until 2007, most small horned frogs found from the mountains of Nepal and Northeast India, east to Northern Indochina and peninsular Thailand were all assigned to this ‘catch all’ taxonomic name, with the result that this little forest frog was believed to have very wide geographical distribution.

However, examining many museum specimens of this little forest frog, and using DNA analyses, the scientists discovered that it actually represented eight different species. Five species previously named, and these three new species described from Northeast India. The three news species only superficially resemble the Little Karen Hills Horned Frog; are genetically very distinct, and are found in disparate geographical regions.

This work is the result of fourteen years of research, gradually piecing together the story from extensive literature review and examining a large number of museum specimens by the lead author, and seven years of dedicated fieldwork in some of the wettest and most difficult terrains in the world by the Indian team. The extensive study was published on the April 28, 2020 as a monograph in the scientific journal, Journal of Natural History.

Besides the discovery of three new species, this study has dramatically increased the known distribution of four of the five poorly known species. The Zunheboto Horned Frog (Megophrys zunhebotoensis) was known to science from only two individuals since it was named in 2007 but was found to be widespread in Nagaland and Manipur states.

The Common Warty Horned Frog (Megophrys serchhipii) was previously known from a single individual but was found to be even more widespread in the hills of all Northeast Indian states (except Arunachal Pradesh) and neighbouring Bangladesh.

Dr. Stephen Mahony, the lead author of the paper, said: “This study is a testament to how little is known about the most threatened animal groups, frogs, in Northeastern India. Our work has completely changed what we thought we knew about these secretive animals, from how to identify the different species and how they are related to each other, to where they live and how vulnerable they may be to deforestation.”

The discoveries have concluded the eleventh new species of horned frog to be named from Northeast India following research by the same core team published in 2011, 2013, and 2018 (which included the 11 cm Giant Himalayan Horned Frog). The teams’ dedicated work has now more than doubled the number of horned frog species known from the region.

Dr. Rachunliu G. Kamei, said: “I grew up personally witnessing the rapid changes in the Northeast Indian landscapes, jungles disappearing with shocking speed! It troubles me greatly that natives are still ignorant about the delicate harmony an ecosystem requires for it to be in balance. Frogs are so vital for healthy ecosystems but incredibly many Nagas still just consider them as tasty snacks.”

“The Dzükou Valley holds prestige for its natural beauty and is promoted as a tourist attraction, however, increasing tourism brings potential conservation threats to vulnerable endemic species. We named the frog after the valley in the hope that the need for preservation and conservation of the remarkable habitats will resonate with the local people who are the guardians of the valley.”

“Local communities are the custodians of their land, and therefore the protection of the remaining wildlife and natural habitats is entirely their responsibility. We named two of the species (Megophrys awuh and Megophrys numhbumaeng) using the local Naga languages because ownership, pride and relatability is very important, and may encourage the locals to be more sympathetic to protect their diminishing heritage.”