The latest discovery in the amphibian world has been named after the western Indian coastal state of Goa. The frog species Fejervarya goemchi, discovered in 2016-2017, derives its name from the historical and cultural word “goemchi”, which means “of the state of Goa”.
The species is found in abundance in the high-altitude grasslands of the Western Ghats in Goa. “But people have not documented them or seen them very carefully,” said Nirmal Kulkarni, a researcher at the Mhadei Research Centre in Goa, who made the discovery along with KP Dinesh of the Zoological Survey of India, Pune. “It is a large frog that has gone unnoticed, because of the complexity of the genus itself.”
The past decade has seen a spate of amphibian discoveries in the highly biodiverse Western Ghats – which traverses the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat – that has almost doubled their numbers. Between 2006 and 2015, the Western Ghats accounted for 103 of the 1,581 amphibian species described globally.
In June, four other species of the genus Fejervarya – found in India, Myanmar, China and Japan – were discovered by University of Delhi researchers Sonali Garg and SD Biju in the southern areas of the Western Ghats. With the addition of Fejervarya goemchi, there are now 21 frog species from this genus unique to the Western Ghats.
Kulkarni and Dinesh have themselves discovered five more species of amphibians in the last 10 years, including Fejervarya gomantaki in 2015. This species, too, was named after the cultural name of Goa.
“We named the species after the state, since this particular region in the Western Ghats where the species is found needs more highlighting,” said Kulkarni. “Internationally, it should become a focus of conservation.”
Fejervarya goemchi is a large frog, measuring between 41 mm and 46 mm. It is among the larger Fejervarya frogs, which range in size from 19 mm to 56 mm. Fejervarya goemchi’s distinguishing features include an elongated and robust body, a pointed snout and medium webbing on its feet. According to Kulkarni, adult males of the species have a cricket-like breeding call heard during the monsoon months, often around stagnant mud pools of the red, clayey soil found in the region.
Kulkarni and Dinesh collected samples of the frog species in the monsoons of 2016 and 2017. Priyanka Swami of the Indian Institute of Science and P Deepak of Mount Carmel College, both in Bengaluru, worked on its genetic analysis.
Kulkarni hopes the species will now be more easily identified so that more research can be carried out on its habitat, breeding habits, distribution range and other characteristics. The researchers have proposed that it be treated as “Data Deficient” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, which provides conservation status and distribution information on various plant and animal species.
“Right now, we have just scratched the tip of the iceberg by saying this is a different species,” said Kulkarni. “This monsoon is where everybody will start searching and learning more about the species.”