The doughnut-shaped, purple frog, found in a "biodiverrsity hotspot" in India, represents a new family in the frog lineage, scientists say.
bloated purple frog with tiny eyes and a protruding snout, whose ancestors
hopped around at the dinosaurs’ feet, has been discovered in the mountains of
southern India, scientists say. The small-headed creature belongs to a new
family of frogs that scientists thought had either never existed or disappeared
without trace millions of years ago.
"It is not just a new species. It represents a deep branch in the evolutionary tree of frogs, and as such merits the establishment of a new family," Franky Bossuyt, an evolutionary biologist at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, said in an interview.
"It is an important discovery because it tells us something about the early evolution of advanced frogs that we would not know otherwise because there are no fossil records from this lineage." Bossuyt and his colleague S.D. Biju discovered the frog in the Western Ghats Mountains of India, one of eight biodiversity hotspots in the world that are home to unusual species found nowhere else.
Its closest living relatives are a family of frogs called sooglossidae that are found only in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) from India. "You could say it is a living fossil," said Bossuyt, referring to the new species. "People have been wondering about the closest relative of sooglossidae, the ones that live on the Seychelles. There was a theory that maybe the closest relative was in India and had become extinct. But now we have found it, and it looks different than expected," he added.
Scientists had estimated that the frog family tree diverged about 230 million years ago. The discovery of the new species, reported in the journal Nature, shows there was a lineage 130 million years ago on a fragment of the ancient super-continent of Gondwana, that incorporated South America, Africa, Indo-Madagascar (India, Madagascar and the Seychelles), Australia and Antarctica.
Gondwana started breaking up 160 million years ago and lost its eastern end about 130 million years ago. Madagascar separated from it about 90 million years ago and the Seychelles followed about 65 million years ago. "This discovery tells us that there was a frog lineage in Indo-Madagascar when it was one continent about 130 million years ago,” Bossuyt said. Only 29 families of frogs are known. Most were identified and described in the mid-1800s, the last in 1926. In a commentary on the research, Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University described the discovery as "a once-in-a-century find."
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