It was the beginning of the rainy season – the first week of June, in 1996. I was driving up along coastal Karnataka, somewhere close to Karwar. 9 AM, and the rain had still not abated. It fell in sheets, with the wind slanting the rain at an oblique 45-degree angle. At around 10 AM, the rain subsided to a drizzle. As I drove along the elevated National Highway 48,a deafening chorus of frogs caught my attention. I got off the highway and drove to an open football field with a 2-3 inch layer of water. Dotted like miniature football players all along the field were nearly 30-40 bright lemon-yellow bullfrogs. Something I had never seen before. Of course, I had seen bullfrogs, but normally they were olive green in color, not bright yellow! What I was witnessing was the spectacular breeding assemblage of the largest frog on the subcontinent, the Indian Bullfrog – Hoplobatrachus tigerinus.
That experience along coastal Karnataka happened nearly twenty years ago. I’ve been on the trail of the bullfrog for the last three years and keep missing it. We attempted two years ago to film it for BBC’s Wonders of the Monsoon (more on that experience here: http://www.felis.in/blog/wonders-of-the-monsoon-bbc-two/), but instead captured the Common Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), which bizarrely, in the Western Ghats, also turns a bright golden yellow. Like the bullfrogs, only the male of the species turns yellow.
Another unique aspect of the bullfrogs’ breeding behavior is that it happens mostly during the daytime. Perhaps that’s why they even bother to change color. In many places, we watched bullfrogs all night, but there was no new behavior apart from the loud calls. It is only in daylight hours that the male frog miraculously changes color and like a sumo wrestler, fights with other males. All this to gain mating rights with the on-looking females which remain mostly camouflaged and submerged in the water, with only their eyes and snout poking out.
Once the eggs are laid and external fertilization occurs, the eggs sink to the bottom of the water and tadpoles emerge after a few days. The tadpoles are highly cannibalistic in nature and eat tadpoles of other species, including their own.
Over the years, I’ve grown attached to bullfrogs and cannot wait till the next time I see this breeding behavior. The sequence you see here was filmed by Felis cameraman, Nitye Sood, after waiting in one location for nearly a month!
Do your part to help conserve bullfrogs, by first, not ordering them from a menu and if anything like ‘jumping chicken’ is offered, refuse and report the restaurant to the authorities.