False Malabar Gliding Frog (Rhacophorous pseudomalabaricus)

Kissing frogs in pouring rain – a herping diary from Munnar

Munnar, a quaint little town on the Kerala side of the majestic Western Ghats, has been a popular tourist destination for decades, but of late it has gained popularity for a different reason. Munnar’s latest attractions aren’t the tea plantation tours or the gorgeous scenery, but the hidden gems of the Western Ghats. You may wonder what they are. Well, let me take you on a visual journey through my experience herping in God’s Own Country.

Munnar landscape with tea gardens and shola forests
The beautiful tea-clad hills of Munnar

Herping, by definition, is the pursuit of searching for amphibians or reptiles (herp = herpetology), which coincidentally happens to be my favourite way to spend time, looking for these little creatures among dense vegetation in the middle of the night using nothing but a torchlight and an acute sense of hearing and vision. There is just something magical about putting on your raincoat, grabbing your torch, wearing your gumboots, and then setting foot into this mystical landscape in the silence of the night. The feeling of rain pouring down your face, leeches on your ankles, and listening to the croaking of frogs is simply indescribable. You have got to be there to experience it first-hand!

Munnar is home to a variety of habitats, including dense deciduous forests and plantations of introduced and exotic trees like eucalyptus and acacia. Numerous streams drain the gorgeous shola grasslands in the high ranges of Munnar. With 28 mammal species, 225 bird species, 14 fish species, 15 amphibian species, and 156 exquisite butterflies, this part of the country is extremely rich in biodiversity. In terms of flora, Munnar is home to over a thousand species of flowering plants.

Many of the frog species that inhabit the Western Ghats are endemic to the region. According to scientists, there are a number of species waiting to be discovered, but I was fortunate enough to photograph a handful of them during my 4-day herping trip to Munnar this October. Most of the herping took place between 7:30 PM and about 1 AM.

The harsh habitat of the Resplendent Bush frog
Bones, picked clean by scavengers, litter the harsh habitat of the Resplendent Bush Frog in Meesapulimala, in Munnar’s high ranges

In Munnar, we herped along the roadways and in high-altitude shola meadows. Herping by the roadside presented its own difficulties, such as nearly being hit by speeding trucks and curious cab drivers pulling over to warn us about “large cats” they had spotted a few days earlier. When we showed them the frogs we’d photographed, they were surprised, and had one of two reactions: either they were utterly captivated, or they’d say: “God bless these people with something significantly better and more productive to do with their lives.”

Vibhu Varshney
Portrait of a drenched but contented herper — Vibhu Varshney in his natural habitat

After I got back to our accommodations,, I reflected on how unaware the residents of these hills were of the wildlife in their own backyard. This just serves to illustrate how much awareness is needed in a region with such incredible biodiversity; otherwise, in a few years, we won’t be able to appreciate the beauty of these animals anywhere other than in photographs captured by a handful of lucky photographers, like me.

Let me introduce you to a few vulnerable species from this gorgeous but threatened habitat in the Western Ghats.

The Munnar Bush Frog (Raorchestes munnarensis)

IUCN Redlist Status – Critically Endangered

The Munnar Bush Frog (Raorchestes munnarensis)
The aptly named Munnar Bush Frog (Raorchestes munnarensis) is restricted to a small patch of about 20 square kilometres in Munnar

This species is endemic to Munnar and restricted to a small patch of about 20 square kilometres. This is both fascinating and alarming, because increased urbanisation brought on by tourist footfalls and clearing of hill slopes for tea cultivation pose a serious threat to its continued survival.


Large-Scaled Pit Viper (Craspedocephalus macrolepis)

IUCN Redlist Status – Near-Threatened

Large-Scaled Pit Viper (Craspedocephalus macrolepis)
The beautiful and rare Large-Scaled Pit Viper (Craspedocephalus macrolepis)

Ever since I started herping a few years ago, this was the animal I had yearned to see. My entire body was overtaken with goosebumps the moment I laid eyes on this snake! The Large-scaled Pit Viper is extremely elusive and has not been documented at elevations below 1200 metres above sea level. Its large body scales and its overlapping head scales are identification marks, and also how it got its name. It is mildly venomous and, unlike its lower altitude cousin, the Malabar Pit Viper, this species hardly occurs in any colour morphs.


Resplendent Bush Frog (Raorchestes resplendens)

IUCN Redlist Status – Near Threatened

Resplendent Bush Frog (Raorchestes resplendens)
More than eye candy, the Resplendent Bush Frog (Raorchestes resplendens) looks like a piece of confectionery

Candy in the grass! The Resplendent Bush Frog is an exquisite little gem that is extremely difficult to find because it only lives deep among grassy bushes at elevations exceeding 8,000 feet. To find these guys, we have to carefully spread apart each grass bush, scan it, and then look deep into it to find these tiny amphibians nestled in their grassy homes looking for their next meal. Getting a good shot of this species has been my hardest challenge as a photographer yet. We hiked long and hard in pelting rain and howling winds. It was freezing, my photography gear was sodden with water, and my gum boots resembled swimming pools. Blood-sucking leeches crawled over my face and body . I was soaked to the bone. My fingers went numb. I was unable to adjust my camera’s settings, my viewfinder went blank while I was shooting, and my glasses fogged up. All of this, of course, made the situation even more adventurous. I was essentially shooting blind.


False Malabar Gliding Frog (Rhacophorous pseudomalabaricus)

IUCN Redlist Status – Critically Endangered

False Malabar Gliding Frog (Rhacophorous pseudomalabaricus)
The critically endangered False Malabar Gliding Frog (Rhacophorous pseudomalabaricus) has tiger-like stripes on its body

We all know how much our nation loves tigers, but most people aren’t aware of the super-tiny tiger that lives in the Western Ghats — the False Malabar Gliding Frog. The stripes that run along the entirety of its body resemble those of the Royal Bengal Tiger, earning it the nickname “green tiger.” The Malabar Gliding Frog, a better-known species, is its close relative. It is also known as the Anaimalai Gliding Frog.

Up close with Rhacophorous pseudomalabaricus
Up close with the False Malabar Gliding Frog (Rhacophorous pseudomalabaricus)

Kaladar Swamp Frog (Beddomixalus bijui)

IUCN Redlist Status – Insufficient data

Kaladar Swamp Frog (Beddomixalus bijui)
Within kissing distance of the Kaladar Swamp Frog (Beddomixalus bijui) in the monsoon-drenched wilderness of Munnar

The Kaladar Swamp Frog is a dream come true for every herper. This mythical creature is the only species in its entire genus. It was discovered very recently and, as a result, virtually nothing is known about it. B. bijui is found at elevations of between 1,100 to 1,600 metres (3,600 to 5,200 ft) above sea level in evergreen forests in the Eravikulam plateau. This is possibly among the very few photographic records of this amazing animal.


Star-Eyed Tree Frog (Ghatixalus Asterops)

IUCN Redlist Status – Endangered

Star-Eyed Tree Frog (Ghatixalus Asterops)
Mesmerised by the Star-Eyed Tree Frog (Ghatixalus Asterops)

The hypnotist! The frog’s eyes caught my attention right away, despite the fact that it is only a few centimetres long. The Star-Eyed Tree Frog earns its name for the whites of its eyes — the iris catches the light and glows under torchlight like bright stars in the night sky. Astonished, I found myself staring deeply into those eyes, star-struck!

Close-up of the eyes of the Star-Eyed Tree Frog (Ghatixalus Asterops)
Close-up of the eyes of the Star-Eyed Tree Frog (Ghatixalus Asterops)

Green-Eyed Bush-Frog (Raorchestes chlorosomma)

IUCN Redlist Status – Critically Endangered

Green-Eyed Bush-Frog (Raorchestes chlorosomma)
The Green-Eyed Bush-Frog (Raorchestes chlorosomma) occurs in disturbed shola forest habitats

Green-eyed Bush Frogs only occur in disturbed sholas, a type of high-altitude evergreen forests that occur mostly in the southern Western Ghats. This frog is endemic to the high-altitude forests of Munnar, which are threatened by large tourism industry developments.

The thought that these animals might become extinct in a few years due to climate change and rapid urbanisation breaks my heart. Furthermore, these high-altitude species require very specific climatic conditions to thrive; else, they may fail to breed and, over time, the species may go extinct. As wildlife lovers, it is our duty to spread awareness about these tiny animals — the wildlife that most people do not know about — and ensure their survival. Else, our future generations may know about them only in past tense — from blogs and images such as these.


I would like to thank the amazing teams at The Outback Experience and Resplendent Experiences for making this possible.

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