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Malabar Gliding Frog

Malabar Gliding Frog

The webbed feet and unusual body positions held by the Malabar gliding frog Rhacophorus malabaricus, found only in the Western Ghats, when gripping twigs reminds Rahul Alvares of the famous superhero, Spiderman.

The frog’s webbed feet help it glide distances of up to 12 metres. Photo: Rahul Alvares.

Sidesh obviously knew his wildlife spotting places. As we drove through the heavy rain at night, the steep road climbing the Chorla Ghat illuminated only by my car headlights, he suddenly signalled to stop at a seemingly ‘nothing here’ spot. Car parked, he got out of the passenger seat and made his way to a five metre tall tree growing by the side of the road. Along with two other friends of mine, Samir and Loyd, I followed him and together we all began scanning the branches of the tree with our flashlights.

Here’s one,” said Sidesh after two minutes of searching.

I was immediately on the alert. Sidesh had the beam of his torch held steady on a small branch growing almost at the top of the tree. Despite the fact that he had our subject captured squarely in the beam of his torchlight, it still took me thirty seconds of squinting to realise what my eyes were seeing. It was a Malabar gliding frog!

The frog was very well camouflaged and to have found it Sidesh obviously needed to have had a good understanding of its behaviour, and astonishingly sharp eyes!

“It’s a beauty… but too far to photograph,” I said to Sidesh, while continuing to observe the frog that was now beginning to turn its back to us.

“Let me see if I can find you one on a lower rung,” said Sidesh cheerfully.

Three minutes later he had found another one perched on a small bush right in front of us. The little amphibian (seven to 10 cm.) was in an excellent position for a photograph and both Samir and I gleefully clicked away with our cameras. Despite us using our flashes, the little frog didn’t seem too bothered. It slowly climbed up a short stem, and then settling into a favourable spot, inflated its throat sac and began croaking vigorously while we were still photographing it!

Of all the species of frogs I’ve seen in the wild, the Malabar gliding frog is my favourite. The unusual body positions this specimen held when gripping onto twigs coupled with its webbed feet reminded me so much of Spiderman! The webs, which extend all the way to the discs of each toe, help this frog glide distances of up to 12 metres!

The Malabar gliding frog is endemic to the Western Ghats. Despite being an amphibian active in humid (moist) conditions, this frog usually does not like to sit in water. When mating, a male will grab a female behind her armpits in an embrace known as axillary amplexus. Mating frogs, while in amplexus hold onto a branch, and beat their legs to form foam. The eggs are laid in the foam, and covered with seminal fluid, before the foam hardens into a protective casing. The foam nest is usually built above a pool, so the baby tadpoles can tumble into the water as soon as they hatch.

First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXV, No. 7, July 2015.  


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