The charm of Amboli, a hill station in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra, lies in its staggering diversity of landscapes. There is the emerald forest, the gurgling streams, and the brown, brooding plateau. Each one of these landscapes is unique, as are the species found in them.

In July 2019, photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee and herpetologist Varad Giri went on a memorable trip to Amboli. The days were reserved for exploring the vast plateau, while the nights were for the deep, dense jungle. “We would finish dinner and leave for the forest. The magic of Amboli lies in the chance encounters. You could just be walking around a drain and encounter eggs of a wrinkled frog. A little further, you may find a Malabar pit viper perched on a tree. You then amble closer to the streams and suddenly discover forest crabs scuttering on damp stones. Around the stream, there are the most unimaginable number of insects, reptiles, and water striders,” says Mukherjee. The beauty of a habitat such as Amboli also lies in waiting — patiently and unobtrusively — for nature to reveal itself. “You have to allow the darkness to engulf you, adjust your vision and suddenly you could be startled by the most mundane object — a dry log that has suddenly metamorphosed into a home for the most magnificent bioluminescent fungi.” Day time sojourns to the plateau show you a completely different side. Made of red, iron-rich laterite rocks, the plateau shelters the famous Amboli toad, and many species of geckos, caecilians, scorpions, swamp eels. Every monsoon, small waterbodies form along the rocky outcrops, that turn into ideal breeding grounds for amphibians, and homes for tadpoles.

Amboli used to be a quiet, little-known town till a few decades ago. But now it has been truly discovered by nature lovers, photographers, and tourists. Thousands of visitors flood Amboli in the monsoons — some for its picturesque landscape and waterfalls, and others for its rich diversity of herpetofauna. “Monsoon is a period when most of the faunal diversity is at the peak of their activity. The increasing number of visitors is stressful for many species, especially amphibians and reptiles,” says Giri. With the economy of Amboli being largely dependent on tourism, a few responsible steps, especially by nature lovers will go a long way in keeping this haven and its species protected. “Amboli is still safe because of efforts of the locals and the forest department, but I don’t know for how long it will stay that way,” says Giri.

The forest around Amboli is predominantly semi-evergreen with a few patches that are still pristine and undisturbed. These support a rich and endemic biodiversity. Owing to increased tourism, many of these patches are littered with plastic waste and liquor bottles.

The forest around Amboli is predominantly semi-evergreen with a few patches that are still pristine and undisturbed. These support a rich and endemic biodiversity. Owing to increased tourism, many of these patches are littered with plastic waste and liquor bottles.

The landscape has many perennial streams, which not only maintain the water table of this landscape but are an abode to the rich aquatic biodiversity. Increased pollution and disturbance of this habitat due to tourism is slowly affecting the health of these streams.

The landscape has many perennial streams, which not only maintain the water table of this landscape but are an abode to the rich aquatic biodiversity. Increased pollution and disturbance of this habitat due to tourism is slowly affecting the health of these streams.

When walking around during the monsoon, tread carefully. In some of the rainwater puddles, if you stop and look, you will see tadpoles of multiple species of frogs. But they don’t fight over the same resources. Different species use different areas (strata) of the same puddle. These tadpoles are of a tiny frog  Microhyla sp.  They always feed on the surface of water and to make sure they remain camouflaged, they are completely transparent from the top and bottom.

When walking around during the monsoon, tread carefully. In some of the rainwater puddles, if you stop and look, you will see tadpoles of multiple species of frogs. But they don’t fight over the same resources. Different species use different areas (strata) of the same puddle. These tadpoles are of a tiny frog Microhyla sp. They always feed on the surface of water and to make sure they remain camouflaged, they are completely transparent from the top and bottom.

The Malabar gliding frog (Rhacophorus malabaricus) which has turned into an unofficial mascot of Amboli, needs temporary rainwater puddles with overhanging plants to be able to breed. They had almost disappeared, but conservation efforts by residents of Amboli, led by a local Hemant Ogale, have kept them safe. Interestingly, different tadpoles have different food preferences — a few are vegetarian and a few predators. The tadpoles of the Malabar gliding frog are known to feed on their own kind — as seen in this image.

The Malabar gliding frog (Rhacophorus malabaricus) which has turned into an unofficial mascot of Amboli, needs temporary rainwater puddles with overhanging plants to be able to breed. They had almost disappeared, but conservation efforts by residents of Amboli, led by a local Hemant Ogale, have kept them safe. Interestingly, different tadpoles have different food preferences — a few are vegetarian and a few predators. The tadpoles of the Malabar gliding frog are known to feed on their own kind — as seen in this image.

The exposed lateritic rocky outcrops in this landscape support a unique biodiversity. One amphibian which is confined to this habitat is the Amboli toad (Xanthophryne tigerina). During the early monsoon the Amboli toad is most commonly seen hopping around the habitat. Due to their restricted distribution and loss in the quality and extent of their habitat, this toad is considered as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List for threatened species. Increasing anthropogenic pressure on this habitat is threatening to wipe out this king of the plateaus.

The exposed lateritic rocky outcrops in this landscape support a unique biodiversity. One amphibian which is confined to this habitat is the Amboli toad (Xanthophryne tigerina). During the early monsoon the Amboli toad is most commonly seen hopping around the habitat. Due to their restricted distribution and loss in the quality and extent of their habitat, this toad is considered as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List for threatened species. Increasing anthropogenic pressure on this habitat is threatening to wipe out this king of the plateaus.

In habitats like Amboli, it is not just water-bodies and forest floors that offer themselves as unique microhabitats. Wildlife photographers and researchers working in the region will always advice you to keep a look out on walls — they are home to some mind-boggling wildlife like geckos and this freshwater crab (Gubernatoriana longipes) especially during the monsoons.

In habitats like Amboli, it is not just water-bodies and forest floors that offer themselves as unique microhabitats. Wildlife photographers and researchers working in the region will always advice you to keep a look out on walls — they are home to some mind-boggling wildlife like geckos and this freshwater crab (Gubernatoriana longipes) especially during the monsoons.

Mostly overlooked, the walls and crevices of Amboli — both manmade and natural — host some incredible species of geckos. This common, nocturnal gecko of Amboli was unknown until researchers described this as a new species — the Giri’s brookish gecko (Hemidactylus varadgirii) — in 2019. This landscape still has many such undescribed species that need attention.

Mostly overlooked, the walls and crevices of Amboli — both manmade and natural — host some incredible species of geckos. This common, nocturnal gecko of Amboli was unknown until researchers described this as a new species — the Giri’s brookish gecko (Hemidactylus varadgirii) — in 2019. This landscape still has many such undescribed species that need attention.

The males of this castle rock night frog (Nyctibatrachus petraeus) occupy a breeding post and advertise their presence with a melodious call every night. If not disturbed, they retain these posts for months. A successful male can have many egg clutches on his breeding post, as seen here. Maintaining a respectful distance from them is essential to their wellbeing.

The males of this castle rock night frog (Nyctibatrachus petraeus) occupy a breeding post and advertise their presence with a melodious call every night. If not disturbed, they retain these posts for months. A successful male can have many egg clutches on his breeding post, as seen here. Maintaining a respectful distance from them is essential to their wellbeing.

Equipped with a pit to detect its prey in pitch darkness, this variedly coloured, nocturnal Malabar pit viper merges with the surrounding and waits for its prey. The key to spotting it is patience. But in habitats like Amboli, the Malabar pit viper shows itself to you — not once, but multiple times. You may find one on a dark, dank branch of a tree. Walk a little further and you may find another one perched gorgeously on the stub of a wet tree like this individual that was waiting on an exposed root near a stream.

Equipped with a pit to detect its prey in pitch darkness, this variedly coloured, nocturnal Malabar pit viper merges with the surrounding and waits for its prey. The key to spotting it is patience. But in habitats like Amboli, the Malabar pit viper shows itself to you — not once, but multiple times. You may find one on a dark, dank branch of a tree. Walk a little further and you may find another one perched gorgeously on the stub of a wet tree like this individual that was waiting on an exposed root near a stream.

Amboli is home to some truly magical species. One such species is the bizarre looking stalk-eyed fly (Family Diopsidae). Their eyes and antennae are positioned at the end of a firm stalk protruding from the sides of the head. The longer the stalk in males, greater are the chances of finding a female and mating in some species.

Amboli is home to some truly magical species. One such species is the bizarre looking stalk-eyed fly (Family Diopsidae). Their eyes and antennae are positioned at the end of a firm stalk protruding from the sides of the head. The longer the stalk in males, greater are the chances of finding a female and mating in some species.

A bioluminescent fungus growing on dry branches along a stream is responsible for this magical green glow. Until a few years ago, this used to be everywhere. All of Amboli would be bathed in this gorgeous green light during monsoon nights. But now this late-night extravaganza is presently confined to a few undisturbed patches along this stream.

A bioluminescent fungus growing on dry branches along a stream is responsible for this magical green glow. Until a few years ago, this used to be everywhere. All of Amboli would be bathed in this gorgeous green light during monsoon nights. But now this late-night extravaganza is presently confined to a few undisturbed patches along this stream.

The wingless, larvae-like females or larvae of a few bioluminescent beetles also glow in the night and are commonly called glow worms. They are terrestrial, mostly seen on low bushes or on ground and flash light to attract a mate. A few are known to feed on snails and thus commonly seen during the monsoon. One such glow worm was seen crossing the road during one of the night trails. A little care, a little mindfulness — can go a long way in protecting fascinating species like this in a habitat like Amboli.

The wingless, larvae-like females or larvae of a few bioluminescent beetles also glow in the night and are commonly called glow worms. They are terrestrial, mostly seen on low bushes or on ground and flash light to attract a mate. A few are known to feed on snails and thus commonly seen during the monsoon. One such glow worm was seen crossing the road during one of the night trails. A little care, a little mindfulness — can go a long way in protecting fascinating species like this in a habitat like Amboli.

Sustain Team
Sustain Team

We are a driven group of people from diverse backgrounds, bound by an abiding love for India’s natural world.

Dhritiman Mukherjee
Dhritiman Mukherjee

is one of India's most prolific wildlife and conservation photographers. His work has been featured in leading publications. He is also a RoundGlass Ambassador, and an RBS Earth Hero awardee.


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