It started with a drizzle, and I wasn’t even carrying my raincoat. It was early evening; I walked at a stealthy pace through the rainforest of Agumbe, mightily believing in my prediction that the showers wouldn’t come down on me. What does a city-dweller know of the ways of the forest? So said the rain god above. Dripping like just-washed woollens, camera in tow, I reached the campsite an hour later, regretting my vanity but absolutely not the drenching.
Evening rained out the forest and its beings. As darkness engulfed the soaked landscape, so did the sounds of nocturnal creatures. The frenzy of activities that night befuddled me completely, and I was enthused to partake in this merry making of living, mating, and surviving in the rainforest of Western Ghats of India.
I packed myself against the rain and leeches and set out to venture the forest. I walked the jungle path, careful not to intrude but only watch from a distance the creatures of darkness. A conglomeration of spiders, cicadas, moths, frogs, toads, and snakes gathered that night, all trying to drown the voice of the other. Except, of course, the snakes that lay absolutely still, as eerie as the tall trees that swayed against the black of the night sky.
I came back with memories (more than pictures) of chance encounters with elusive rainforest creatures. Of those, the MALABAR TREE TOAD left me most surprised. Many wander the depths of rainforests, but few witness an abundance of this tree toad in one single night. And yet, the Malabar Tree Toad is an endangered species of toad.
Yes, you read it right. The conservation status of the Malabar Tree Toad is ENDANGERED. Loss of habitat due to human activities, construction of dams and highways, and extensive non-timber plantations; deforestation; and degradation of local flora and fauna has pushed this toad to a deplorable conservation status. And the numbers constantly continue to decline. The tree toad has only a scattered and fragmented presence today.
ABOUT and LOCATION
In perspective, given the vastness of the Indian subcontinent, the number of frog and toad species discovered is not quite satisfactory. This doesn’t indicate a dearth of these creatures; there are many waiting to be unearthed to the world of human knowledge.
It surprised me thus to know that the Malabar Tree Toad was discovered as early as 1875 by the herpetologist and biologist, Gunther.
The Malabar Tree Toad (pedostibes tuberculusus), also known as WARTY ASIAN TREE TOAD because of its warty skin, is endemic to the Western Ghats of India. This toad is a semi-arboreal species because of its resident address being both freshwater and evergreen locations. They find the moist, evergreen rainforest climate most conducive for survival. Found often near permanent water bodies—streams, waterfalls, lakes—these toads are known to live on trees, though adult toads are also found perched on shrubs and low-lying foliage.
This is a small-sized brownish grey toad, the males growing between 3.-3.9 centimetres in length, the females much bigger. It is slender and has a moderate-sized head and a pointed, short snout. The opening of the ear is well marked, and it has large, wide eyes (big for its tiny head actually).
The toad has webbed fingers at the base that are moderate and depressed. Interestingly, its first finger is nearly half the length of its second finger. The toes are almost completely webbed, the tips of both its fingers and toes widely broadened.
The Malabar Tree Toad is a brownish-grey creature, with slightly darker sides. A distinctive white band runs along the side of its body from below the eye to the axil and another white band in its lumbar region. It has a warty upper skin and dark, more spotty underneath.
Male toads of this species have a subgular vocal sac, making a ‘shirrrr shirrrr shirrrr’ sound, with each call lasting anywhere between 3-7 seconds.
The breeding season of the Malabar Tree Toad commences before the monsoon rains pour down. The male toads engage themselves in typical, competitive mating calls, trying to woo the female. Breeding often takes place on the banks of streams or rivers, the toads depositing their eggs in stagnant water. Approximately 1000 translucent eggs (each about 1.1 millimetres in diameter) are laid per clutch. The larvae grow and develop in water, later metamorphosing into terrestrial adult tree toads.