Scientists have discovered a bright purple, bloated frog in southern India that is so unique it merits the establishment of not only a new species but also a new family. The creature, described today in the journal Nature, diverged from its closest relatives during the heyday of the dinosaurs.

The approximately 4,800 currently known species of frogs belong to 29 families, most of which were named by the mid-1800s. Franky Bossuyt and S. D. Biju of the Free University of Brussels in Belgium discovered a novel purple frog in India's Western Ghats Mountains that has a bulbous body and a pointy snout (see image). The researchers analyzed the animal's DNA and demonstrated that its closest living relatives are the so-called sooglossids frogs of the Seychelles, an archipelago between India and Africa. The newly discovered species, dubbed Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, diverged from the sooglossids about 130 million years ago, prior to the break up of India and the Seychelles around 65 million years ago.

The strange looking animal, which is a burrowing frog, lives in one of the hottest of the so-called hotspots of biodiversity left on the planet. S. Blair Hedges of the Pennsylvania State University notes in an accompanying commentary that "extraordinary discoveries such as this frog show that there is an urgent need for more biotic surveys." Indeed, he notes that the classification of the frog as a new family--the first since 1926--is "a once-in-a-century find."