A Croak and Tell Story

Researcher-scientist Dr K V Gururaja’s frog app has croak recordings that help in identifying different species.

Published: 21st September 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th September 2014 12:44 PM   |  A+A-

Croak

From dating, charting your diet, learning to play the banjo or even a foreign language, there is an app for everything today. Including frogs. Called Frog Find, this android app (introduced in 2013) gives one a lowdown on the amphibians, a total of 55 species—from their names and pictures to their location, how to identify them and, hold your breath, the app has recently even integrated frog calls. It is the brainchild of researcher-scientist Dr K V Gururaja and two colleagues Harish Shanthi Kumar and Ashwin Murugesh.

Gururaja is also credited with discovering a frog species in 2012. Born in Shimoga, in the Malnad region of Karnataka, Gururaja, 37, was exposed to the bounties of nature from an early age. His brother, who was part of Mysore Amateur Naturalists, used to take him on birding trips. “While working on a project during my postgraduation in environmental science, my supervisor wanted me to compile a list of the birds on the university campus. Having already done it, I did not find the task interesting to which he then suggested that I look for frogs.”

Since then, frogs have been an important part of everything Gururaja has done after completing his Master’s degree from Kuvempu University, where he was offered a fellowship to do a research programme that involved working across national wildlife parks in Kudremukh, Bhadra and areas in and around Theerthahalli (Shimoga). Even after he switched jobs from Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES), IISC to Centre for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning (CiSTUP) IISC, Bangalore, his focus did not change.

And all that dedication and attention to the humble amphibian bore fruit in a remarkable manner.

To the delight of the scientific community and cocking a snook at the British who had declared that no more species were to be found—Gururaja discovered a new frog species. “I was one of the researchers involved in the cumulative study of the Sharavathi river basin. In 2006, while researching in the Myristica swamp, we were looking for frogs at night, when something caught my attention—two frogs, a male and a female stood on their hind legs, touching one another. After mating, the female turned upside down and laid eggs. The male then standing on his hands, gathered mud from the stream and dabbed it on the eggs, as if to secure them. I had never seen anything like this before.”

The new discovery was called Nyctibatrachus kumbara or the Kumbara night frog—nycti for night and batrachus for frog and kumbara (meaning potter in Kannada) because of the male slapping mud on the eggs.

Of course, it was six years later in 2012 that Dr Gururaja got the nod for having made a new discovery. “Science, he says, “demands proof. So apart from mapping the physical features, we got the morphological features analysed as well by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE). Only when conclusive evidence was reached, it was declared to be a new species.”

The new discovery electrified the scientific community. “It’s only by discovering new species that we have come to realise that the Western Ghats are a treasure trove of bio-diversity. Also, any conservation practice can begin only by knowing what you have,” he says.

The discovery was followed up with a book, Pictorial Guide to Frogs and Toads of the Western Ghats.

Later Gururaja invented the app. “The app is interactive and a good companion for when one is out ‘frogging’,” says Raghu Ananth, a user. Perhaps, in the not too distant future, we might hear a “Eureka” once more.

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