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A Puzzle Solved: Walking Frogs

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After seeing a frog walking in Malawi, I was determined to solve the puzzle. Are there frogs that walk? Here is the answer.

Malawi

Malawi

When living in Malawi in South-East Africa as a child, I looked out of the window one day and saw a most unusual sight. A frog walking. I told my mother what I had seen. She was skeptical, to say the least. Everyone knows that frogs hop or jump, right?

As the sight of a frog walking seemed so bizarre, the memory stayed with me. Eventually, I related my experience to a zoologist. Puzzle solved, at least partially. Now to identify the species of frog I most likely saw.

There are four species of frogs that walk rather than hopping, two species are found in Africa, the other two are found in South America. None of the species are related but they all share the characteristic of front and back legs being more symmetrical in size to other frog species. Basically, their front legs are closer in length to their back legs than in other frog species. This enables them to stand on all four legs and walk rather than hopping.

Here they are, along with my best guess of the species of frog I saw many years ago.

Senegal Land Frog

The Senegal Land Frog (Kassina senegalensis) is found throughout a large expanse of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Malawi. It is a small, freshwater species with a maximum size of 50 mm (2 inches). These frogs breed in both temporary and permanent pools and ponds. Senegal Land Frogs inhabit a range of environments from grassland and savanna to forest.

Unfortunately, there has been little research done on this species. At present, due to its abundance and widespread distribution over a range of habitats, it is not considered to be at risk.

Senegal land frogs are sometimes kept as pets. Although found in Malawi, its small size rules it out as the walking frog of my childhood.

Senegal Land Frog (also called Senegal Running Frog)

Senegal Land Frog (also called Senegal Running Frog)

Banded Rubber Frog

Banded Rubber Frogs (Phrynomantis bifasciatus) are significantly larger than Senegal land frogs, with adults growing up to 68 mm in length. They are found throughout central and southern Africa and are known to be found in Malawi.

Given the more substantial size of this species and its relative abundance, it is most likely the frog that I saw as a child.

Banded Rubber Frogs live in a range of habitats, including agricultural land and breed in freshwater ponds, pools, ditches and sometimes water storage areas.

If you are lucky enough to see one of these frogs, be wary of handling it. This species is known to excrete a toxic, milky substance through its skin which is harmful to both animals and humans.

Banded Rubber Frog

Banded Rubber Frog

Orange Legged Leaf Frog

Orange Legged Leaf Frogs (Pithecopus hypochondrialis) are a nocturnal species native to Brazil, and areas around the Amazon Basin.

They live in trees near pools of water and lay their eggs on leaves during the wet season. They seal the leaves into a funnel shape to protect the eggs from predators. When the eggs hatch, the tadpoles wriggle free and drop into the water below.

Orange Legged Leaf Frogs are excellent climbers and have a gait similar to monkeys. They range in size up to 30 mm with the females growing larger than males. During dry periods they coat their skin with a waxy substance which helps them to tolerate drier conditions.

They are highly sought after as pets with some collected from their native habitat for sale on the International market. Others are bred in captivity.

Orange Legged Leaf Frog

Orange Legged Leaf Frog

Bumblebee Toad

Last, but not least is the Bumblebee Toad (Melanophryniscus stelzneri). They are found in Argentina, South America and adjoining countries including Paraguay.

Bumblebee Toads are small. Males grow to about 30 mm while females are larger growing to 45 mm. They live in grasslands where the humidity is lower than in rain-forest areas.

Bumblebee toads breed prolifically using temporary water pools, ditches, and ponds. Brightly colored with yellow markings and a red underside and feet, they are extremely popular as pets.

The capture of Bumblebee toads for sale on the International pet market has led to a decline in the native population.

Bumblebee Toad

Bumblebee Toad

I'm happy to have solved this puzzle and to have learned about these fascinating and unique amphibians. If you are tempted to keep one or more of these frogs as a pet, please try to do so responsibly.


Citations

IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group. 2013. Kassina senegalensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T56236A3036276. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-2.RLTS.T56236A3036276.en. Downloaded on 27 February 2021.

IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group. 2013. Phrynomantis bifasciatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T57951A3063393. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-2.RLTS.T57951A3063393.en. Downloaded on 28 February 2021.

Azevedo-Ramos, C., Silvano, D., Scott, N., Aquino, L., La Marca, E., Céspedez, J.A. & Lavilla, E. 2016. Pithecopus hypochondrialis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T55853A107297758. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T55853A107297758.en. Downloaded on 28 February 2021.

© 2021 Nan Hewitt

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