Episode 156 – Purple Frog: Born in the Storm

“…and today we’re talking about a frog with a secret underground life. But more on that later.”

The forests of India’s Western Ghats, are teaming with life. Many amphibian species live there, and many have only been discovered in the last few decades. As frogs hop from log to log and branch to branch, one species doesn’t see what all the fuss is about when it comes to life in the sun. The bizarre looking purple frog prefers the subterranean lifestyle and nothing could make them come out of their soft soiled homes. Well, nothing except one thing… But an offbeat lifestyle away from predators is just one of many strategies in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Description of the Purple Frog

  • This is a pretty weird looking frog
  • It looks like an inflated version of one of those puffed-up desert rain frogs
    • It just looks like it’s constantly holding its breath
  • Its body is bifurcated so there are two large puffed-up sections… kinda like a lil tush
  • It has smooth, slimy skin that’s a brownish-purplish color (some google images look pretty purple but on the whole it seems more brownish)
  • The head is short, squat and triangular – it kinda looks like a mole’s face
  • Its eyes are a lot smaller than most frogs’
  • There is also a ridge of skin extending from each eye to its pointy little nose. Plus there’s a ridge that extends out like a frown from below the nose.
    • So it looks like a star-nosed mole, but at certain angles it also looks like it has eye stalks like a slug.
  • Basically, it’s a frog, a star-nosed mole, and a soft-shelled turtle all rolled into one. It’s the platypus of amphibians.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We do have a new Measure Up intro from Mason!


  • 52.8 mm to 89.9 mm
  • How many purple frogs go into India’s tallest waterfall?
  • Hint: Kunchikal falls is a cascading type, which means that it falls in stages, like a staircase. 
  • 5,061 frogs. The waterfall is 455 metres (1,493 ft).


  • 165 grams
  • How many frogs go into India’s largest animal, the indian elephant?
  • Hint: Indian elephants are smaller than African elephants and tend to live in jungle areas where their smaller size is an advantage.
  • 24,191 frogs. Indian elephants are 8,800 pounds (3,992 kg).

Fast Facts About the Purple Frog

  • Range: Small sliver slightly inland near the southwestern shore of India called the Palghat Gap. It lives in loose, damp soil at low elevations.
  • Diet: Mostly eats termites but will also eat other little insects and bugs
  • Behavior: Some local communities will make amulets out of these frogs and give them to children to reduce their fear of storms.

Major Fact: The Storm Born Frog

Purple frogs lead an interesting lifestyle in that they spend the vast majority of their life underground. Because of that, they’re very elusive. They were only first officially discovered in 2003, though the locals already knew about them and some papers described the species before 2003. They went undiscovered for a long time because they only come out when field scientists are cozied up by their lab computers to get out of the rain. 

Even now, much of their underground activities are unknown to researchers. It lives underground all year round except for when it emerges for two weeks out of the year to breed. Purple frogs come out during the monsoon season when rainfall increases. During that time, males call out to females over the din of waterfalls and rain. They only have two weeks to find a mate or their magic runs out and they can no longer be Santa Frog. 

Above ground, they look kind of weird. Their bloated little bodies and small heads make them look like a frog in a funhouse mirror. Their weird bodies are designed to burrow like a drill underground. Their pointed noses seem like they would be ideal for drilling into soft soil. Underground living isn’t new for frogs, but most of them burrow underground and emerge at night to feed. Not so with our purple friend. They feed entirely underground on a diet of mostly termites. They have a special buccal groove that helps them feed underground.

Tadpoles that are born in the rainy season are especially adapted to living in torrents and waterfalls. They have special mouths with keratinized teeth that allow them to cling to rocks. They use their mouths to climb up moist rock faces, especially near waterfalls. These weird teeth are continuously replaced like a shark’s. 

Ending: So go singing in the rain, burrow your way into obscurity, and help children overcome their fear of storms like the purple frog here in LDT