If you thought that humans were the only species to have a thriving nightlife, you might have to reconsider your thoughts. Forests come alive at night, and the Western Ghats is a great region to observe this fascinating nightlife in. If you are a curious person at heart, the sights and sounds of the night can stir your soul in unimaginable ways and leave you overwhelmed. On moonlit nights, under glittering skies, are the stars of the show – bioluminescent fungi, fireflies, the unmissable hooting of owls, the deafening symphony of cicadas, frog calling in the pouring rain, and unseen slithering reptiles.

My favourite time of the year is the monsoon and post-monsoon season, when forests are bustling with life. The Western Ghats’ evergreen tree canopies, ferns, shrubs and plants turn a hundred shades of green, and are home to thousands of creatures. As much as a day walk can offer a wildlife enthusiast, a walk in the dark can enthral quite a bit more. Contrary to darkness being associated with nights, I oddly find it more colourful; as you witness the life around you at night, your eyes also start adjusting themselves to see through the darkness.

When I wanted to paint a series of paintings showcasing the behaviour of one particular species, the Malabar Gliding Frog (Rhacophorus malabaricus) was my first and most favourite choice. A frog that glides sounds unreal, but nature is full of surprises. Gliding frogs of the genus Rhacophorus are a unique and spectacular group in the arboreal frog family Rhacophoridae. There are currently 13 valid species, with four species — R. malabaricus, R. pseudomalabaricus, R. lateralis and R. calcadensis — endemic to the Western Ghats. The reason I chose to showcase the Malabar Gliding Frog at night is because I became an admirer of this frog during my night walks in the forest. These paintings are gouache along with ink and acrylic.

Among the many beautiful frog species I have come across in the Western Ghats, my first memory of this old-world tree frog is of finding one in a sleeping position, quietly camouflaged with a leaf. Malabar Gliding Frogs are one of the largest moss frogs, with a body length of about 4 inches.

A Malabar Gliding Frog’s vivid green granulated skin is unmistakable. Its belly is pale yellow and more coarsely granulated.

Its snout is rounded but not very wide.

Seemingly ordinary at first sight, I didn’t make much of Malabar Gliding Frogs until I observed them in a freshwater habitat in their full glory.

Their most striking feature is the red webbing between their toes. This makes it possible for them to break their fall as they jump from treetops and glide in the air anywhere from 9–12 metres.

Malabar Gliding Frogs are very good climbers and comfortably walk on twigs and tree-trunks on all fours.

They have dilated fingertips that act like suction cups, useful for a life among leaves on trees, sometimes even at a height of 100 feet from the ground.

A Malabar Gliding Frog is seen here with its vocal sac visible. The purpose of the vocal sac is to amplify its mating call.

A male is seen on top of a female, in amplexus. Males are much smaller than females.

During one of my walks, I came across their nesting behaviour, and it was something I had to capture in my sketchbook – a tree filled with these frogs in amplexus. And like many moss frogs, the mating pair beats their legs to form a cloud of foam to lay the eggs in. This foam nest is usually built above a pool of water so that the tadpoles can drop into the water as soon as they hatch.

Froglets of the Malabar Gliding Frog, seen in their developing stage.

A Malabar Gliding Frog rests on a flowering plant (Heliconia sp.).