Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Turtle frogs - just bizarre

So ugly they're beautiful  sorta cute...

Myobatrachus gouldii

It has been a dry dry winter and spring, except some decent rainfall last night brought out the call that turtle frogs would be about.

I've never seen one before, and thought that they were impossible difficult to see, and only the most dedicated herp freaks would ever have a prime viewing experience.

But no - they're far more common than I had thought, and last night was the night to see them crawling around on the surface, calling out to the ladies, looking for a mate to spend their summer with deep down in a burrow of love.

The live in SW Western Australia, on sandy soils - hence they do well on the Swan Coastal Plain - a place of exceptional sandyness. It would appears that a number of significant bushland reserves, like Whiteman Park, Bold Park and Kings Park, have sizeable populations of turtle frogs lurking in these sandy soils. They spend most of the lives nudging their way face first in the sand, burrowing away in a fossorial manner, eating termites. Termites!

But there are a very few occasions when the critters come to the sandy surface, and  this is usually spring-summer on the first night of/after the first heavy rainfall.

So - spring rains mean pairing for the frogs, followed by a summer spent together in a burrow, summer mating and egg laying, and then these eggs develop directly into froglets. That's pretty amazing.

The call is a deep, throaty "murrrp" and there were .. well.. from the sounds of it.. 'undreds of 'em.  And they're tiny - only about 2 -3 cm long (SVL). They can be hard to spot, but when you finally triangulate their location and peer around - there they are! On the soil surface, looking a bit like a cross between a marri nut and a strawberry bubblegum bubble.Or in a burrow entrace or depression in the sand.

No bulgy froggy eyes for these guys - they have tiny, deeply inset eyes like a microbat or mole, apparently covered a protective membrane. They have a saggy, oversized skin which appears to inflate like a bubblegum bubble. They're also pinkish - which takes their resemblance to a bubblegum bubble even more.. And chunky arms. They have chunky arms for digging face first through sand.

That's great - thanks to those who alerted me to finding this amazing frog, and I'll keep an ear out for them again next time we get the decent rains...


  1. Amazing things ... I've never seen a frog's head quite like this one before! It could almost be called cute ... how fascinating that they eat termites. Wonder if they've moved east yet ... we could do with some termite munchers over here in Qld.

  2. There's quite a few burrowing frogs in Australia, and the sandy plains of Western Australia appear to support a rich diversity of burrowing insects, frogs, blind snakes, lizards, ... and there used to be quite a few mammals. And termites - plenty of termites out there.

    Its the digging down face-first which makes this such an unual animal. And the direct development from egg - adult morph. There's another frog in the same family (closely related genus, I think) that exhibits similar behaviours and life history. The sandhill frog (Arenophryne spp) (two species: northern and southern) from Shark Bay way also spend their lives mostly underground and direct-develop. I've seen the southern species - very very cute and more regularly froggy in appearance than the turtle frog.

  3. Howdy Neomyrtus, that certainly is one pretty genus of flower you have for your handle.

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