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A team of researchers has unearthed a new tadpole that burrows through sand from the streambeds in the Western Ghats of India.
Scientists from University of Delhi, University of Peradeniya and Gettysburg College discovered and documented the interesting tadpole of the Indian Dancing frog family, Micrixalidae.
These tadpoles were discovered from deep recesses of streambeds, where they live in total darkness until they fully develop into froglets. The identity of the tadpoles as Micrixalus herrei is genetically confirmed. These tadpoles are endowed with muscular eel-like bodies and skin-covered eyes, which facilitate burrowing through gravel beds.
They lack teeth but have well-serrated jaw sheaths, which may help prevent large sand grains from entering the mouth while feeding and moving through sand. The tadpole gut contains small sand grains together with decaying organic matter, which acts as a nutrient source.
The Indian Dancing frogs typically wave their legs as a territorial and sexual display while sitting on boulders in streams. Though these displays are well known, the tadpoles of these frogs were completely unknown. This was, in fact, the only family of frogs and toads for which the tadpoles remained a mystery.
Prof. SD Biju said, "We provide the first confirmed report of the tadpoles of Indian Dancing frog family. These tadpoles probably remained unnoticed all these years because of their fossorial nature, which in itself is a rare occurrence in the amphibian world."
They examined the external morphology of the tadpoles and scrutinized their bones using a double staining procedure, which revealed the presence of ribs in very early stages of tadpoles.
Prof. Madhava Meegaskumbura stated that only four families of frogs are reported to have ribs, but researchers show that at least some of Micrixalidae also have ribs, even as tadpoles; this adaptation may provide for greater muscle attachment, helping them wriggle through sand. Also, whitish globular sacs storing calcium carbonate, known as "lime sacs," are present even in juvenile frogs of Micrixalus, which is uncommon in other frogs.
Very little is known about the habitat requirements of these tadpoles. Observations made so far show that the tadpoles inhabit sandy banks under canopy-covered streams. The new finding reiterates the uniqueness of amphibians of the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, providing a platform for future studies on this amphibian family, while also delivering useful information for conservation of these ancient and endemic frogs.
The study appears in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.