My interest in nature began with bird watching in the mid 1980s. After many years of ardent birding, my interest in other creatures piqued, and soon I began looking for and observing other creatures. Butterflies and other insects followed my interest in birds. However, it was not till the mid 2000s when digital photography entered our world that I began looking for creepy-crawlies at night. Night photography necessarily requires a flash and is rather tricky. So using expensive slide or print film was tough on my low budget!
Once digital cameras arrived, a whole new world beckoned. It was during my early days as a digital camera user that I began seriously searching for frogs at night. It was during one such visit to Tamhini, located 70 kilometres from Pune, that my son Yash and I were wandering in the rainforest, searching for herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles). As we walked along the main road along Tamhini, surrounded by forests, we heard a deep croooon call from every mountain stream that we passed. After we heard this call at the third stream, Yash and I decided to investigate. Shining our torches, we searched high and low. Was it an insect? A bird? A frog? The call seemed to emanate from the stream, so we surmised that it must be a frog. But where was it? After spending some time searching in the usual places — bushes, rocks, and stream edges — we were at a loss. What was frustrating was that the frog seemed to be calling from within the stream, no more than a few feet from where we stood, but we could not spot it. We put off our torches and waited for the frog to call again. This time, we noted the frog’s call location even more closely. And when we put on the torch, we spotted the frog! We had just seen our first Wrinkled Frog (Nyctibatrachus species)! The frog was sitting on a vertical rock surface inside the stream, with water running over the frog, camouflaging it so well that we could hardly see it. The frog’s colour was blackish-brown, matching the colour of the rock face it was sitting on. Over the years, I have figured out how to spot ‘nyctis’, as I like to call them. They are masters of disguise, in addition to being nocturnal creatures. I noticed that different species of nyctis seem to adapt to the colour of the surfaces they are on. A nycti that I found in Kerala had the reddish-brown colour of the stream bed it was sitting on! Another one in Goa was black and brown, and as the water rolled over its body, the ripples matched the wrinkles on the frog’s body!
Camouflage is important for creatures in the wild, but the wrinkled frogs take this to a higher level. The next time you hear a weird call from a rippling forest stream at night, search long and hard and you may spot your first nycti!
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