Meet Shillong’s Xmas Frog: So Tiny, It Fits In a Raindrop

The story of Thumbelina, the female frog in search of her frog prince.  
Xmas frog
The tiny and critically endangered Xmas frog can be found in bushes in Shillong. Photo: Ashwika Kapur

Every monsoon, the city of Shillong in Meghalaya echoes with a certain “tick-tick” sound. It is the call of the Xmas frog, a species endemic to the region, and named for two reasons: because it was discovered on Christmas Day in the 1970s, and because it has a faint X mark on its back.

thumbelina-poster

This Sun December 25, the Raorchestes shillongensis stars in a movie, made by wildlife filmmaker and Green Oscar-winner Ashwika Kapur. Titled Thumbelina: The Story of an Xmas Frog, the 20-minute documentary follows the life of “a female Xmas frog in Shillong, looking to find her frog prince so that her eggs have the strongest genes.”

“The adult Xmas frog is one-third the size of a thumb,” Kapur said in conversation with National Geographic Traveller India. “while a new born fits in a drop of rain.” The babies are about the size of full stop, she says, so looking for them is like trying to find the tip of a needle in a haystack. Thankfully, she had expert guides. Kapur tagged along with a team of researchers from the Wildlife Institute of India, led by Dr. Abhijit Das, who were studying the species in Meghalaya, shooting on and off during the monsoon when the frogs mate.

Kapur’s connection with the species runs deeper than this film. While digging for information, she stumbled upon a surprising nugget of her own family history: It was her grandfather, AP Kapur, one-time director of the Zoological Survey of India, who first sanctioned research on the frog when it was discovered in the 1970s. Somewhere along the way, the research stalled, and only resumed in 2016.

It might be tiny, but the Xmas frog has been around for millennia, dating back to the time when dinosaurs roamed the planet. “The Xmas frog skips the tadpole stage and goes from egg to froglet to frog,” which she says indicated that it’s a prehistoric species. They’re an important part of Shillong, and Kapur hopes her little film will be as entertaining as it is educational for locals and outsiders.

Ashwika Kapur

Ashwika Kapur in Meghalaya, home to some of the wettest places on Earth. Photo courtesy Ashwika Kapur

Thumbelina: The Story of an Xmas Frog will be available on Sun December 25 and Mon December 26 on Ashwika Kapur’s Youtube channel. Follow the film’s Facebook page for updates. Watch the trailed below.

  • Fabiola Monteiro was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's web team. She loves beaches, blue skies, and baking, and is most centred while trying a new cake recipe. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro.

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