Who would have thought the Indian dancing frog, so named for its cute foot-waving courtship displays, would deliver us to such a bizarre place? The adults of the species make us giggle with memories of vaudevillian cartoon amphibians, but their young… dear God, their young suggest scenes from an Arrakin bestiary, at best—if not the nightmare revelations of of Thomas Ligotti.
Because, as detailed in a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the tadpoles of Micrixalus herrei are muscular, eel-like larvae who wriggle through the sand and gravel of their native streambeds in the Western Ghats. It’s a world of abrasive darkness, so their eyes remain sheathed beneath a layer of flesh. While toothless, their serrated jaws serve as a sieve, which they need for their maddening consumption of sand.
That’s right, the dancing frog tadpoles gorge themselves on sand and sediments in order to ingest the organic material dispersed betwixt the grains. Like an earthworm or mighty Shai Hulud itself, the tadpoles are true fossorials: equipped with the musculature and skeletal structure necessary for a secretive, burrowing life. They even have ribs, which were only known to occur in four of the 31 extant families of frog or toad.
This discovery by scientists from the University of Delhi, University of Peradeniya and Gettysburg College finally solves the mystery of the Indian dancing frog’s missing young. Fossorial tadpoles are not unknown to science, but they are a rarity. Micrixalus herrei now joins the ranks of the Mount Gadin Borneo frog, Pyburn’s pancake frogs of Brazil and a single species of Cameroonian long-fingered frog.
So think about that the next time Michigan J. Frog dances his way onto your screen. Like the Indian dancing frog, he’s merely wiggling his legs around to attract a mate—and spawn legions of blind, sand-sucking offspring.