Munnar – a destination well-known for its cool climate and tea-clad hills, has always been a popular summer getaway among travellers. The hill station has now revealed a new side to itself as an exciting herping destination. With some unique species that are endemic to Munnar and a few neighbouring areas, the region is now considered an abode for researchers and herpetologists. People with a keen interest in herping and macro-photography are now opting for Munnar for their nature tours.

As a photo tour leader and naturalist, I've seen firsthand the growing interest and awareness among tourists for amphibians and reptiles. Nature tours are no more confined to just bird-watching and wildlife safaris. Rather, nature walks along plantations to hear and spot these tiny creatures have become a new craze. This has created a new tourism sector which sees an uptick, particularly during the monsoon. Beyond tourism, there has been a realisation about the need to protect these little creatures who otherwise go unnoticed. I have personally witnessed a vast number of endemic species in unprotected and highly-degraded habitats.

During herping expeditions in plantations and along motorable roads, I have seen locals noticing and questioning the importance of these tiny creatures. That's when we get to spread awareness and change their perspectives. My team and I have been able to bring about small changes among the local people, who no longer rush to kill a shieldtail, which would otherwise be considered a two-headed venomous snake. With around 40 species of frogs and 30 species of reptiles recorded in Munnar, here are a few that require immediate attention.


Galaxy Frog (Melanobatrachus indicus)

IUCN Redlist Status – Endangered

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This rare and endangered frog is a unique species found in the high altitudes of the Western Ghats, and is very difficult to be found as it does not favour communication by sound – it lacks a tympanum (eardrums) and middle ear and males do not have a vocal sac. As its name suggests, the frog resembles a tiny galaxy in itself with blue spots on its black body and orange patches around the arms. Conversion of forest areas into agricultural land has posed a major threat to them and their preferred habitat. The Galaxy Frog is also one of the top 100 EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) species and was recently identified as the flagship species for habitat protection in Mathikettan Shola National Park, Kerala.

Munnar Bush Frog (Raorchestes munnarensis)

IUCN Redlist Status – Critically Endangered

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As the name suggests, this species of frog is endemic to Munnar, Kerala and belongs to a very small area. They are found near tea plantations, and any kind of habitat clearance can be catastrophic, making habitat protection a priority. According to the IUCN Red List, there is a decline in the population of the species.

Sushil's Bush Frog (Raorchestes sushili)

IUCN Redlist Status – Critically Endangered

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Endemic to the shola forests of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, this tiny frog is listed as Critically Endangered due to habitat loss. It is mainly found in Munnar, Periyar, and Valparai. It is facing the same ill-fated future as many other mid-altitude frog species, due to land degradation, usage of pesticides in plantations, and fragmentation.

Travancore Bush Frog (Raorchestes Travancoricus)

IUCN Redlist Status – Endangered

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Endemic to the southern Western Ghats and once considered extinct, the Travancore Bush Frog is now listed as an endangered species after it was documented in 2009. It is known for the bluish outer ring on its iris, which makes it a close relative of Raorchestes luteolus, endemic to Karnataka.

Star-eyed Tree Frog (Ghatixalus Asterops)

IUCN Redlist Status – Data Deficient

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The beauty of this tiny creature is purely in its eyes, with radiating star-like patterns on the iris. This is a high-altitude species found between 1400-2100m in the sholas of Munnar, Palani, and Anamalai. Ghatixalus asterops is one of the three recognised species in the genus 'Ghatixalus'. The genus name is derived from 'Western Ghats' to which it is endemic. They are predominantly found near mountain streams throughout their life cycle.

False Malabar Gliding Frog (Rhacophorus pseudomalabaricus)

IUCN Redlist Status – Critically Endangered

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The False Malabar Gliding Frog or the Anamalai Flying Frog is a high-altitude species endemic to the southern Western Ghats. Their distribution in high altitudes differentiates them from the Malabar Gliding Frog or Rhacophorus malabaricus. They are found in small ranges of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Their habitats are mostly montane forests, marshes, and plantations. Plantations pose a threat to the species due to their use of pesticides, especially cardamom plantations.

Green-eyed Bush Frog (Raorchestes chlorosomma)

IUCN Redlist Status – Critically Endangered

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Found in the high-altitude forests and plantations of the southern Western Ghats, it is mainly found in Munnar and a few regions of Periyar Tiger Reserve, and Tamil Nadu. The common name of the species denotes the radiating green pattern in its iris, which makes it stand out. A major threat to this species is habitat disturbance due to plantations and tourism.

Toad-skinned Frog (Walkerana phyrnoderma)

IUCN Redlist Status – Critically Endangered

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This lesser-known frog species is found at elevations between 1350- 1650m in the montane evergreen forests of the southern Western Ghats. They are extremely rare and found in very few locations. Even though the Toad-skinned Frog was described in 1882, very little could be studied about its biology due to its limited distribution. Getting to photograph this rare species from Munnar has been one of my celebrated moments as a naturalist.

Striped Coral Snake (Calliophis nigrescens)

IUCN Redlist Status – Least Concern

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Striped Coral Snake or Black Coral Snake is a venomous elapid snake endemic to the Western Ghats. The species is found between 1200-1800m altitude and is known for its multiple patterns and colours, depending on its habitat. It spends most of its life underground and can be spotted only during the monsoon. Linear intrusion, habitat destruction, and intentional killings are the major threats to this species.

Bamboo Pit Viper (Trimeresurus gramineus)

IUCN Redlist Status – Least Concern

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A common species in the Sahyadris, the Bamboo Pit Viper is the rarest pit viper in Kerala. A dead specimen and few unvalidated sightings had been recorded until November 2020. I was lucky enough to have photographed the first live specimen from Kerala, at the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. Found mostly in bamboo groves and forests, which probably lend to its name, the Bamboo Pit Viper is the longest among pit vipers and is arboreal and nocturnal. They can be aggressive if threatened.

Large-scaled Pit Viper (Trimeresurus macrolepis)

IUCN Redlist Status – Near Threatened

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This high-altitude species, endemic to the southern Western Ghats, is one of the most beautiful snakes in the region. It is not found anywhere below 1200m and is unique to the thick forests and plantations of high-altitude regions. As the name suggests, these pit vipers have large, overlapping head scales. This arboreal species is easily camouflaged, making it difficult to spot them. Unlike the Malabar Pit Viper, the Large-scaled Pit Viper hardly has any morphs.