Research Article
Research Article
The genus Pelophylax (Amphibia, Ranidae) in Pakistan: museum collections and possible distribution
expand article infoDaniel Jablonski, Addison Wynn§, Rafaqat Masroor|, Theodore Papenfuss, Spartak N. Litvinchuk#¤, Glib Mazepa«»
‡ Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia
§ National Museum of Natural History, Washington, United States of America
| Pakistan Museum of Natural History, Islamabad, Pakistan
¶ University of California, Berkeley, United States of America
# Dagestan State University, Makhachkala, Russia
¤ Institute of Cytology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Saint Petersburg, Russia
« Evolutionary Biology, Uppsala, Sweden
» University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Sweden
Open Access


We provide the first comprehensive data on the questionable distribution of the genus Pelophylax and the family Ranidae from Pakistan. Based on a literature review and two specimens of the genus from Tasp, Panjgur District in Pakistani Balochistan (USNM 26194–95), stored in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC, USA, we discuss the possible occurrence and affiliation of these frogs in the context of Central Asia. Our comparison shows that the nearest records of Pelophylax in relation to the Tasp specimens are reported from more than 280 km (air-line) away in Iran and Afghanistan, which are currently separated by hot and mostly desert environments. We suggest that possible surviving populations of this genus may still be present in Balochistan (Rakhshan River) or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Kabul River) Provinces of Pakistan. This would, however, need further field investigations.

Key Words

Afghanistan, biogeography, Central Asia, Iran, museum data, Bufotes, Chrysopaa, Nanorana, Rana


The genus Pelophylax Fitzinger, 1843 currently represents 20–21 species and 2–3 hemiclonals distributed from northern Africa to the Far East in Asia. They are morphologically very similar and often mentioned as particular species complexes (groups) with unresolved phylogenetic relationships (Akin et al. 2010). Populations from the Middle East and Central Asia are ranked under the P. ridibundus group and are geographically associated with the following species: P. ridibundus (Pallas, 1771), P. bedriagae (Camerano, 1882), P. caralitanus (Arikan, 1988) and P. terentievi (Mezhzherin, 1992). All these taxa have phenotypic, ecological and etiological similarities, yet the ongoing research shows that they will need comprehensive evolutionary-taxonomic re-evaluation (Mazepa et al., in prep.). The members of this group are paraphyletic, containing cryptic taxa (Plötner 2005). Populations of the ridibundus group have a continuous distribution and are most abundant in the temperate and subtropical zones of the Western Palearctic, with a scattered distribution in the southern dry regions in the Middle East where water bodies are available. Overall, they are distributed from eastern Spain to western China, through Central Europe, the Balkans, the Anatolian Peninsula, the Caspian Region and Central Asia (Akin et al. 2010). In the division between Central (Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) and Southern Asia, where the territory of Pakistan falls, three species are currently recognised: P. bedriagae, P. ridibundus and P. terentievi (Wagner et al. 2016; Pesarakloo et al. 2017; Showler 2018; Frost 2021).

Pakistan is a country in the transition zone between the Palearctic and Oriental faunas, which is based on the fact that representatives of (not only) amphibians from both these two zoogeographic regions may be found in the country (Khan 2006; Jablonski et al. 2020, 2021). Currently, the territory of Pakistan contains four families of amphibians: Bufonidae Gray, 1825; Dicroglossidae Anderson, 1871; Megophryidae Bonaparte, 1850; and Microhylidae Günther, 1858 (Masroor 2012; Sarwar et al. 2016; Frost 2021). Whereas Bufonidae contains both Palearctic (Bufotes Rafinesque, 1815) and Oriental (Duttaphrynus Frost et al., 2006; Firouzophrynus Safaei-Mahroo & Ghaffari, 2020) genera, other families are represented only by genera with mostly Oriental affiliation (e.g. Euphlyctis Fitzinger, 1843; Minervarya Dubois, Ohler, Biju, 2001; Microhyla Tschudi, 1838; Scutiger Theobald, 1868).

Previous reports of the family Ranidae from Pakistan (Khan 2006) are for species currently recognized in the family Dicroglossidae. However, historical data mention the genus Pelophylax (formerly Rana Linnaeus, 1758), a true member of the family Ranidae, for Pakistan. The first Pelophylax record (“Rana esculenta, L.”) was provided by Blanford in Hubrecht (1880: 621) from the locality Nál (Naal) of central Balochistan [coordinates given by Blanford as 29°30'N, 66°E, however, the correct position should be ~27.682°N, 66.183°E sensu St. John (1889)]. Another specimen was collected in Baghunna (~27.907°N, 66.298°E), “so badly preserved that doubts about its identity with this or any other species may be entertained” (Hubrecht 1880). These specimens were part of a small collection of amphibians and reptiles made by “Dr. C. Duke in April and May 1877” and deposited in the Leiden Museum (currently known as Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, The Netherlands; Hubrecht 1880). However, in the digital catalogue, we were able to find only a specimen RMNH.RENA.4024 of Trapelus agilis (Olivier, 1807) from that collection. We, moreover, think that both localities belong to Chrysopaa sternosignata (Murray, 1885), aquatic species that was described later than Blanford in Hubrecht published their observations. Authors thus could affiliate them erroneously with “Rana esculenta”.

Later, “Rana esculenta, L., var. ridibunda, Pallas” was mentioned by Boulenger (1898: 353) for Pakistan from the collections of the BMNH as two collection items (i.e. each in a separate jar): i) a tadpole originating from the area “Quetta to Nushki” (~29.71°N, 66.40°E; loc. 2), yet we were able to recover no traces of this specimen (first mentioned by Boulenger in Aitchison 1889: 105) and ii) a male and a female, NHMUK 1955838 (= BMNH 1884.11.20.6–7) (Boulenger 1882, 1891, 1920: 89–90).

The Pelophylax larva was collected by James E. T. Aitchison, naturalist of the Afghan Boundary Commission, on 22–29 September 1884 (Alam 2009). The following settlements were indicated along the road between Quetta and Nushki: Spangaoli, Gobrak, Khanak, Panj-paj, Chaman and Kaisar (Aitchison 1889). Notably, along this route, Aitchison collected an adult specimen of “Bufo viridis” NHMUK 1880497 (= 1886.9.21.128) that was later defined as a paratype of Bufotes zugmayeri (Eiselt and Schmidtler 1973). Possible concerns on larval affiliation to Pelophylax (identification made by Boulenger) may be ruled out by the fact that Aitchison’s collection also contained larvae of a green toad “Bufo viridis, Laur.”: “Numerous Tadpoles from streams at base of Mt. Do-Shakh” (Boulenger in Aitchison 1889: 105).

The adult frog vouchers came from the locality “near Sarawan, Baluchistan” (~28.67°N, 65.53°E; loc. 3) and were deposited by George E. Mason (Boulenger 1891: 380). The origin of some other amphibian specimens obtained from Mason was doubted by Boulenger (1920: 89), while no such doubt was raised for the Sarawan specimens.

All abovementioned records come from north-eastern Balochistan, near the border with Afghanistan (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. 

Locality data of the genus Pelophylax in eastern Iran and Afghanistan, based on museum voucher specimens and published field records (orange circles) in the context of data from Pakistan (green circles). The nearest localities to Tasp (USNM 26194–95; locality no. 1) are marked with arrows. The question mark represents possible presence of the genus Pelophylax in Pakistan on the Kabul River. The dashed green line represent the border between the Palearctic and Oriental zoogeographic realms. For details and locality numbers, see Suppl. material 1: Table S1. The individual in the figure originated from Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, photographed by Sjoerd van Bemmel, BemmelPhotography.

Materials and methods

During extensive research on the biogeography and taxonomy of the genus Pelophylax, we came across a forgotten collection comprising two specimens of Pelophylax originating from south-western Pakistan (Balochistan Province), deposited in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC, USA (USNM). We, therefore, provide important data and confirmation of (at least) the historical presence of these frogs for Pakistan (western Balochistan), supported by well available museum material. We took 14 morphometric characters (Table 1) and detailed photos of both specimens (Figs 2, 3). We also compiled, updated, or even corrected (see localities of vouchers CAS [California Academy of Sciences] 115915, FMNH [Field Museum of Natural History] 161114–16 in Suppl. material 1: Table S1 and literature therein) the available field and museum records of the genus Pelophylax from eastern Iran and Afghanistan to present the possible geographical affinity to the closest populations and obtain a better view on the origin of Pakistani populations (see Suppl. material 1: Table S1). Moreover, we attempted to genotype the mitochondrial ND3 locus of specimens (USNM 26194–95) from Pakistan, as well as vouchers from one of the closest known localities of the genus from Iran (Zabol, MVZ [Museum of Vertebrate Zoology] 243552–63 and MVZ 243612–13). However, due to the age and preserved medium of specimens from Pakistan, we were able to extract DNA and sequences from only four of the Zabol vouchers, namely MVZ 243553–54 and 243612–13 (GenBank Accession Numbers: MW590982MW590985).

Table 1.

Morphological data of two specimens of Pelophylax from Pakistan, stored in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Morphometric data are presented in millimetres and bilateral characters are presented with the left/right sides.

Measurements USNM 26194 (♂) USNM 26195 (♀)
Total length 78 80
Head length 23 26
Distance between nostrils 4 4
Distance between front end of eye to tip of snout 10 11
Distance between the eyes 11 11
Distance between eye lids 2 2
Width of eye lids 9/9 8/8
Diameter of ear membrane 6/6 5/5
Length of femur 39/39 32/34
Length of tibia 40/41 42/43
Length of small toe 12/12 11/10
Length of metatarsal tubercle 4/4 4/4
Width of the metatarsal tubercle 2/1 2/2
Length of the second shank 20/20 19/19
Figure 2. 

The voucher specimen of Pelophylax sp. USNM 26194, adult male. Scale bars correspond to 1 cm. Photo credit Esther M. Langan, modified by Glib Mazepa.

Figure 3. 

The voucher specimen of Pelophylax sp. USNM 26195, adult female. Scale bars correspond to 1 cm. Photo credit Esther M. Langan, modified by Glib Mazepa.


Two Pelophylax specimens (“Rana ridibunda”; Figs 2, 3) were collected from Tasp (26.99°N, 64.06°E; Fig. 1, loc. 1), south-western Balochistan, Pakistan, by George E. Mason (London, England) and deposited at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA, as an exchange for invertebrates (Fig. 4). The time of their collection is unknown, but before they were catalogued in July 1899 (Fig. 4). Both specimens were adult and have voucher numbers USNM 26194 (male; Fig. 2) and USNM 26195 (female, Fig. 3). Together with the material from Sarawan (BMNH 1884.11.20.6–7; see Introduction), these two specimens represent the only vouchered specimens of the genus from Pakistan. The specimens from Tasp are also the western- and southernmost known records of the genus for Pakistan. Morphological characters, together with the visible colour pattern, correspond to the P. ridibundus group. We compared the locality of Tasp with available locality records from Pakistan, Afghanistan and eastern Iran (overall 57 identified localities representing 147 vouchered specimens; Fig. 1 and Suppl. material 1: Table S1) to evaluate their geographic distances and closest locality. The nearest locality is “Hodar, Sarbaz River” (MMTT [Muzeye Melli-e Tarikh-e Tabiei, Tehran] 877; Fig. 1, loc. 57; Safaei-Mahroo and Ghaffari 2020) in Iran, approximately 280 km (air-line) from Tasp in Pakistan. Other Iranian and Afghan localities are more than 500 km from Tasp (Fig. 1). We also compared the distances to previously known historical records of the genus in Pakistan mentioned by Blanford in Humbrecht (1880) and Boulenger (1889, 1891, 1920), namely the area of Quetta. These localities are ca. 370 km (air-line) from Tasp. Based on the distribution of the Tasp specimens, we expect that they should be identified as P. terentievi.

Figure 4. 

The Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History (USNM) catalogue ledger with USNM 26194 and 26195 voucher entries for Pelophylax from Pakistan. Photo credit Division of Amphibians and Reptiles, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

The ND3 haplotypes of the sequenced specimens from the Zabol area, Iran (MVZ 243553–54 and 243612–13) are most similar to P. terentievi (GenBank Accession Number NC029199) from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Unfortunately, specimens from the Pakistani locality of Tasp (USNM 26194–95) were not successfully sequenced. However, we expect the same genetic affinity for the Pakistani specimens as is recorded for the Zabol specimens, but further confirmation is needed.


As there exist no recent observations on Pelophylax from Pakistan and only four exact localities are historically known with only two corroborated by available voucher specimens, it is difficult to evaluate if Pelophylax is currently a member of the herpetofauna of the country. According to Masroor (2012), Sarwar et al. (2016), Frost (2021) and Jablonski et al. (2021), 20 to 24 species of amphibians are currently reported from the country, without any mention of the family Ranidae or the genus Pelophylax. Pakistani Balochistan is herpetologically the most diverse region of the country (Khan 2006), yet the predominantly arid conditions do not generally provide suitable and stable habitats for amphibians. Pelophylax frogs need permanent water sources around rivers or lakes, but they are also able to live in oases, for example, in northern Africa or the Middle East (e.g. Nicolas et al. 2015). Although such habitats are available in Balochistan, they are often ephemeral. This is also the case of the Rakhshan River flowing in the vicinity of Tasp. This river currently possesses little or no water; however, in Panjgur (near Tasp), it expands into a series of bright clear water pools (kor joh) connected by small water channels. The banks are bordered by numerous date palms and most of the water is used for irrigation. Speculatively, in the time of the collection (150 years ago), the situation with suitable habitats might have been different, providing conditions for a stable, broadly distributed population. However, we presume that some small populations of the genus Pelophylax might still occur there. This needs further investigations to determine not only the presence of Pelophylax, but also to investigate its origin with respect to the nearest localities in Iran and Afghanistan, which are situated more than 280 km from Tasp (Fig. 1). Due to the physiography of today’s locality, the possible populations of Pelophylax may represent relicts, surviving in Balochistan after a more suitable past climate. Further field investigation is also needed from areas of historical records mentioned by Blanford in Hubrecht (1880) and Boulenger (1889, 1891, 1920) in the area of Quetta.

Moreover, potential localities of the genus in Pakistan may be found around the Kabul River in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in the north-western part of the country (Fig. 1). The Kabul River is a biogeographic corridor for the Oriental fauna into the Palearctic area that probably allowed colonisation of valleys of Hindu Kush mountains around the river from Pakistan to eastern Afghanistan [e.g. Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis (Schneider, 1799); Calotes versicolor (Daudin, 1802); Ophisops jerdonii Blyth, 1853, Varanus bengalensis (Daudin, 1802); Fowlea piscator (Schneider, 1799); Wagner et al. 2016; Jablonski and Lesko 2018; Jablonski et al. 2019]. Given the records of Pelophylax in Afghanistan, for example, from Paghman near Kabul (FMNH: 161055; Anderson and Leviton 1969; Fig. 1 loc. 5) and especially from the locality “ca. 25 km SE (by air) Jalalabad” (MVZ: 236876; Fig. 1 loc. 4), only 60 km from the Pakistani border, such vice versa colonisation and presence of the genus Pelophylax in north-western Pakistan is highly possible. In this context, we checked the specimens stored in the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida (UF) and vouchered as UF 82322–24, collected in Yakh Tangi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan (approximately 34.30°N, 71.65°E). These specimens were stored in the collection under the name “Ranafarooqi” nov. sp. Auffenberg”, raising serious questions on the identification of these specimens as Pelophylax. However, available photos reveal that these specimens might be members of the genus Nanorana Günther, 1896, most likely N. vicina (Stoliczka, 1872).


We would like to thank E. Ely (Californian Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California, USA); C. Spencer (Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Berkley, California, USA) for assistance with information regarding collection and loan of the Pelophylax tissue samples from Zabol, eastern Iran; R. Wilson (Department of Vertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, USA) for the loan of tissue samples of Pelophylax from Pakistan; E. M. Langan (Department of Vertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, USA) for the photographs of USNM 26194 and 26195; C. M. Sheehy III and D. Blackburn (Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, USA) for information and photos of “Rana farooqi”; and S. van Bemmel (The Netherlands) for his photo of P. terentievi from Afghanistan. We also thank two reviewers for their useful comments. This work was supported to DJ by the Slovak Research and Development Agency under the contract APVV-19-0076 and by the grant of the Scientific Grant Agency of the Slovak Republic VEGA 1/0286/19.


  • Akin C, Bilgin CC, Beerli P, Westaway R, Ohst T, Litvinchuk SN, Uzzel T, Bilgin M, Hotz H, Guex G-D, Plötner J (2010) Phylogeographic patterns of genetic diversity in eastern Mediterranean water frogs have been determined by geological processes and climate change in the Late Cenozoic. Journal of Biogeography 37(11): 2111–2124.
  • Alam M (2009) Plant collectors in Afghanistan. Bulletin de la Société vaudoise des Sciences naturelles 91: 301–340.
  • Anderson SC, Leviton AE (1969) Amphibians and reptiles collected by the Street expedition to Afghanistan, 1965. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, Fourth Series 37(2): 25–56.
  • Blanford WT, Hubrecht AAW (1880) On a collection of reptiles and amphibians from Baluchistan made by Dr. C. Duke in April and May, 1877. With a note by W.T. Blanford, F.Z.S. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1880: 621.
  • Boulenger GA (1882) Catalogue of the Batrachia Salientia s. Ecaudata in the collections of the British Museum. London, 256 pp.
  • Jablonski D, Lesko AJ (2018) New locality record of the Bengal monitor, Varanus bengalensis (Daudin, 1802), from Afghanistan. Herpetology Notes 11: 915–917.
  • Jablonski D, Masroor R, Hofmann S (2021) Revisited molecular phylogeny of the genus Sphaerotheca (Anura: Dicroglossidae): the biogeographic status of northernmost populations and further taxonomic changes. Diversity 13: 216.
  • Khan MS (2006) Amphibians and reptiles of Pakistan. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, Florida, 311 pp.
  • Masroor R (2012) A contribution to the herpetology of northern Pakistan: The amphibians and reptiles of Margalla Hills National Park and surrounding regions. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR), Ithaca, New York, USA and Chimaira Buchhandelsgesellschaft mbH, Germany, 217 pp.
  • Nicolas V, Mataame A, Crochet P-A, Geniez P, Ohler A (2015) Phylogeographic patterns in North African water frog Pelophylax saharicus (Anura: Ranidae). Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 53: 239–248.
  • Pesarakloo A, Rastegar-Pouyani E, Rastegar-Pouyani N, Kami H, Khosravani A, Oraie H (2017) The first taxonomic revaluation of the Iranian water frogs of the genus Pelophylax (Anura: Ranidae) using sequences of the mitochondrial genome. Mitochondrial DNA 28: 392–398.
  • Plötner J (2005) Die westpaläarktischen Wasserfrösche – Von Märtyrern der Wissenschaft zur biologischen Sensation. Laurenti Verlag, Bielefeld, 160 Seiten.
  • Safaei-Mahroo B, Ghaffari H (2020) The Complete Guide to Amphibians of Iran: Biology, Ecology, and Conservation. University of Kurdistan Press, 331 pp.
  • Sarwar MK, Malik MF, Azam MHI, Iqbal W, Ashiq U (2016) Distribution and current status of amphibian fauna of Pakistan: a review. Electronic Journal of Biology 12(3): 243–246.
  • Wagner P, Bauer AM, Leviton AE, Wilms TM, Böhme W (2016) A checklist of the amphibians and reptiles of Afghanistan. Exploring herpetodiversity using biodiversity archives. Proceedings of the Californian Academy of Sciences 63: 457–565.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 

Table S1. An overview of localities and voucher specimens from Afghanistan, eastern Iran, and Pakistan used in this study

Daniel Jablonski, Addison Wynn, Rafaqat Masroor, Theodore Papenfuss, Spartak N. Litvinchuk, Glib Mazepa

Data type: species data

This dataset is made available under the Open Database License ( The Open Database License (ODbL) is a license agreement intended to allow users to freely share, modify, and use this Dataset while maintaining this same freedom for others, provided that the original source and author(s) are credited.
Download file (27.10 kb)
login to comment