Sometimes resplendent, ungainly at other times, frogs are indicators of ecological health
For many of us city-born-and-bred folks, thrills at night are restricted to sitting on a couch and watching the idiot box. For those of us who have the gumption to step out of our comfort zones and venture out for occasional night walks, a whole new world beckons. Recently, I was in a south Indian city for a conference and decided to walk along a track on the outskirts of a village.
Among the first things I came across was a large frog sitting in wet, oozing mud, just off the village track. My immediate reaction was to take a few steps closer to the frog. My foot sunk into the mud, and soon I was ankle deep in it. A few more laborious mud-caked steps brought me closer to the amphibian. The frog had pretty colours; brown with bizarre patterns of bright yellow on its back. It, however, had a weird shape. Looking like a blob of lard, the frog had a stout, round body, with a small head and a short, blunt snout. With wrinkled baggy skin, the mournful looking creature seemed to have aged prematurely.
I was looking at the Marbled Balloon Frog, Uperodon systoma. The frog is called so because when threatened it expands its body into a balloon-like shape, thus, making it seem larger than it really is, to ward off predators. Often, you can see the balloon frog, bloated and floating in an ungainly fashion in water.
Looking around the area, I found an open excavated pit filled with rain water from a monsoon deluge. The Marbled Balloon Frog actually spends a large amount of its time underground, during summer and winter months. Its feet have large digging appendages that allow it to burrow through wet soil with amazing dexterity. It can live for many months under the soil without feeding. During the rainy season, the frog emerges to breed. During this season, large numbers of competing males gather to call vociferously, in the hope of attracting a female to mate with.
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