Common warty horned frog (left) and Dzükou horned frog Credit: Systematics Lab

Guwahati: Three new species of horned frogs have been discovered in the remote forested Himalayan regions of Northeast India and named using local lingo, by a team of Irish and Indian biologists from the University College Dublin (Ireland), the Natural History Museum (UK), and University of Delhi (India).

Two of the new species have been named using words adapted from local tribal languages at their sites of discovery. The Naga Hills Horned Frog (Megophrys awuh), where the word ‘awuh’ means ‘frog’ in the Pochury language, the primary native tribe from the Melluri district of Nagaland state, and the Tamenglong Horned Frog (Megophrys numhbumaeng), where the name is derived from ‘nwmbwmaeng’ meaning ‘forest spirit’ from the Rongmei (Ruangmei) language, the primary native tribe from the Tamenglong district of Manipur state.

The third new species, the Dzükou Valley Horned Frog (Megophrys dzukou), was named after the only place that this potentially endangered new species was found, which lies on the border of Nagaland and Manipur states.

Dr Rachunliu G Kamei said: “The Dzükou Valley holds prestige for its natural beauty and is promoted as a tourist attraction, however, increasing tourism brings potential conservation threats to vulnerable endemic species. We named the frog after the valley in the hope that the need for preservation and conservation of the remarkable habitats will resonate with the local people who are the guardians of the valley.”

“Local communities are the custodians of their land, and therefore the protection of the remaining wildlife and natural habitats is entirely their responsibility. We named two of the species (Megophrys awuh and Megophrys numhbumaeng) using the local Naga languages because ownership, pride and relatability is very important, and may encourage the locals to be more sympathetic to protect their diminishing heritage.”

This work is the result of 14 years of research, gradually piecing together the story from extensive literature review and examining a large number of museum specimens by the lead author, and seven years of dedicated fieldwork in some of the wettest and most difficult terrains in the world by the Indian team. The extensive study was published on the April 28 as a monograph in the scientific journal, Journal of Natural History.

Lead author Dr Stephen Mahony said: “This study is a testament to how little is known about the most threatened animal groups, frogs, in northeastern India. Our work has completely changed what we thought we knew about these secretive animals, from how to identify the different species and how they are related to each other, to where they live and how vulnerable they may be to deforestation.”

Dr Kamei said: “I grew up personally witnessing the rapid changes in the northeast Indian landscapes, jungles disappearing with shocking speed! It troubles me greatly that natives are still ignorant about the delicate harmony an ecosystem requires for it to be in balance. Frogs are so vital for healthy ecosystems but incredibly many Nagas still just consider them as tasty snacks.”

The discoveries have concluded the eleventh new species of horned frog to be named from Northeast India following research by the same core team published in 2011, 2013, and 2018 (which included the 11 cm Giant Himalayan Horned Frog). The teams’ dedicated work has now more than doubled the number of horned frog species known from the region.

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