In 2008, scientists first discovered fossils from the head portions of a frog from ancient Madagascar. The newly discovered frog lived 70 to 65 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period. Using modern tests that take into account an animal’s appearance and genetic makeup, the scientists assumed that the frog belonged to the family Ceratophryidae, known as common horned frogs. This family of frogs is large and all of its constituent species live in South America.
This evidence suggested to scientists that the new frog species, named Beelzebufo ampinga, must have roamed the massive prehistoric continent Gondwana (a supercontinent that was made up of present day South America, Africa, Antarctica, and Madagascar) and is evidence of Madagascar being once connected to South America via Antarctica up until the Late Cretaceous.
However, scientists have now since disputed this claim based on evidence that Gondwana was already broken apart by the Late Cretaceous. New fossil evidence, discovered by Susan Evans from the University College London in the United Kingdom, also suggests that Beelzebufo was even more bizarre than previously thought.
Beelzebufo differs from all known living and extinct frogs in that it possessed long bony spikes protruding from its head like devilish horns and similar spines down the vertebrae of its back. The new evidence suggests that the species was large and heavily armored. Its name literally means “Devil Toad.” It largely resembled frogs as we think of them, but was much larger than today’s frogs – with a larger mouth and heavier bony armor.
According to Evans and colleagues, the semi-arid and highly seasonal climate the frog lived in would have had prolonged dry periods scattered with periodic heavy rain. Severe drought conditions between rains would have attracted animals to the quickly drying water pools. Though a difficult environment for a large amphibian, frogs of today live in similar conditions. In fact, amphibians with bony armor such as Beelzebufo’s are often associated with areas of periodic drought, and Beelzebufo likely sought refuge by burrowing into the moist ground.
Anatomical features such as a large, short body with thick skin make Beelzebufo closely resemble the African Bullfrog in appearance, function, and behavior. Both frogs are/were large in size, with massive skulls and similar teeth.
The team of scientists infers that Beelzebufo spent most of its time on dry land and along coastal waters. If it was like modern armored frog species, Beelzebufo was an aggressive ambush predator whose diet ranged from invertebrates to small vertebrates like other frogs, lizards, and smaller birds. Being slow moving, it took to sitting and waiting for prey to pass by. Beelzebufo possessed a strong jaw and sharp teeth (for a frog); and with its large gaping mouth, ate whatever unfortunate vertebrate fit inside.
You can always count on paleontologists to discover the creatures of our nightmares. Though not the largest, this “Devil Toad” certainly was a monster among Cretaceous amphibians.
Evans, S. E., Groenke, J. R., Jones, M. E., Turner, A. H., & Krause, D. W. (2014). New Material of Beelzebufo, a Hyperossified Frog (Amphibia: Anura) from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. PLOS ONE, 9(1), e87236.
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