A New Genus Of Old Tree Frog Family Discovered In Andaman Islands Named After Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda


Sri Lanka’s father of biodiversity and taxonomist Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda has been named after a new genus of the old world tree frog family discovered in Andaman Islands, on Thursday.

A team led by Delhi University Professor S.D. Biju along with a group of researchers from India, China, Indonesia and Thailand, said it was the first time a tree frog species, Rohanixalus vittatus (Striped Bubble-nest frog), was reported from the Andaman Islands of India. The new genus Rohanixalus is named after the Sri Lankan taxonomist Rohan Pethiyagoda. ‘Even though the amphibian fauna of Andamans has been frequently surveyed in recent years, family Rhacophoridae was so far not reported from these islands.

Dr. Pethiyagoda said : “Rohanixalus is a genus distributed from Northeast India to Southeast Asia, and I feel honoured that they chose to associate the name of this new genus to me.” He said the paper is additionally interesting because they recorded the new genus and hence the rhacophorid tree frogs from the Andaman Islands for the first time.

He added that only future research will show how they got there. As you know, there are three genera of rhacophorid frogs in Sri Lanka too: Taruga, Polypedates and Pseudophilautus. “The species is a unique new genus:  widely distributed in South, Southeast, and East Asia, freshly laid eggs fluorescent green,  eggs laid in bubble nests,  maternal egg guarding behavior,  community breeding and egg attendance by multiple females,  females protect and glaze the egg clutch for up to three days after egg laying, female assisted release of developing tadpoles from the egg clutch to water, male-male combats for mating,  see-through skin making eggs and organs externally visible… and many more”, Professor Biju said

Biju said the discovery of a tree frog member from Andaman Islands is unexpected and once again highlights the importance of dedicated faunal surveys and explorations for proper documentation of biodiversity in a mega diverse country like India. ‘This finding also uncovers an interesting new distribution pattern of tree frogs that provides evidence for faunal exchange between Andamans and the Indo-Burma region,’ Biju said. Researchers said they studied multiple aspects, such as the external morphology of adults and tadpoles, phylogeny, calls, and breeding biology of several treefrog species widely distributed across South, Southeast, and East Asia and confirmed that they represent a new genus. Frogs of this genus are known to inhabit forested as well as human-dominated landscapes right from Northeast India, Andaman Islands, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, up to southern China.

Rohanixalus is the 20th recognized genus of the family Rhacophoridae and currently comprises eight out of the 422 known Old World tree frog species found in Asia and Africa, they said. Frogs of the new genus are characterized by a rather small and slender body (size about 2 to 3 cm long), a pair of contrastingly colored lateral lines on either side of the body, minute brown speckles scattered throughout the upper body surfaces, light green colored eggs laid in arboreal bubble-nests, and several unique behavioral traits including maternal egg attendance.

‘Based on DNA studies, the new genus is also revealed to be a distinct evolutionary lineage from all previously known tree frog genera. During the breeding season, these tiny reddish-brown frogs can be found in large aggregations on bushes and shrubs (about 1 to 4 meters high) surrounding water bodies,’ the statement said. Scientists believe that many more unnamed Rohanixalus species are likely to be present and future dedicated efforts are required to fully understand the existing species diversity in this new genus. According to the study, the female (mother) attends the egg clutches until hatching and assists in release of the tadpoles into the water. ‘During the first three days after egg laying the female sits over the eggs and produces a gelatinous secretion with which she glazes the egg mass through clock-wise movement of her legs. This behaviour provides necessary moisture to the eggs laid on exposed leaf surfaces and protects them from insect predation,’ it said. During field studies in Andamans, the researchers found a large number of egg clutches (over 50) of different developmental stages on a single leaf or plant. Multiple females usually attend such clutches in a behaviour termed as community egg attendance, they said. Frogs of the new genus have a unique nesting behavior and are reported to display territorial behaviour and frequent male-male combats involving pushing, kicking, and dislodging, in order to successfully mate with a female.