Environment Institute
South American Horned Frog

Scientists say that a large, now extinct, frog called Beelzebufo that lived about 68 million years ago in Madagascar would have been capable of eating small dinosaurs.

The conclusion comes from a study of the bite force of South American horned frogs from the living genus Ceratophrys, known as Pacman frogs for their characteristic round shape and large mouth, similar to the video game character Pac-Man. Due to their attractive body colouring, voracious appetite, and comically huge heads, horned frogs are very popular in the international pet trade.

Published today in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, the scientists from University of Adelaide, California State Polytechnic University – Pomona, University of California – Riverside and UCL, University College London found that living large South American horned frogs have similar bite forces to those of mammalian predators.

“Unlike the vast majority of frogs which have weak jaws and typically consume small prey, horned frogs ambush animals as large as themselves – including other frogs, snakes, and rodents. And their powerful jaws play a critical role in grabbing and subduing the prey,” says Dr Marc Jones, researcher at the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences and honorary researcher at the South Australian Museum.

The study found that small horned frogs, with head width of about 4.5cm, can bite with a force of 30 newtons (N) or about 3 kg or 6.6 lbs. A scaling experiment, comparing bite force with head and body size, calculated that large horned frogs that are found in the tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests of South America, with a head width of up to 10 cm, would have a bite force of almost 500 N. This is comparable to reptiles and mammals with a similar head size.

“This would feel like having 50 litres of water balanced on your fingertip,” says Professor Kristopher Lappin, Professor of Biological Sciences at California State Polytechnic University – Pomona.

Based on their scaling relationship, the scientists estimated the bite force of the giant extinct frog Beelzebufo – which is in many ways similar to living horned frogs – may have had a bite up to 2200 N, comparable to formidable mammalian predators such as wolves and female tigers.

“At this bite force, Beelzebufo would have been capable of subduing the small and juvenile dinosaurs that shared its environment,” says Dr Jones.

The scientists measured bite force using a custom-made force transducer, a device which accurately measures the force applied to two plates covered with leather when an animal bites them.

“This is the first time bite force has been measured in a frog,” says Professor Lappin. “And, speaking from experience, horned frogs have quite an impressive bite, and they tend not to let go. The bite of a large Beelzebufo would have been remarkable, definitely not something I would want to experience firsthand.”

Sean Wilcox, a PhD candidate at the University of California – Riverside, says: “Many people find horned frogs hilarious because of their big heads and fat, round bodies. Yet, these predators have given us a rare opportunity to learn something more about the biology of a huge extinct frog.”

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Little fish in the Giant Kelp Forest exhibit.

The oceans are vast and mysterious. What lurks beneath the silver sheen of water’s surface? What stories lie under the sea? No, we don’t mean mermaids or singing crabs, we’re talking science! To celebrate Spring and the month of September, National Biodiversity Month, we bring you an extraordinary look at our seas and oceans through […]

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The number of people displaced by war and persecution is at an all-time high. As needs grow, governments are struggling to find responses that are sustainable at scale, and international institutions are failing. Camps and boats have too often become the dominant focus of policy, perpetuating an assumption of refugees as inevitably vulnerable or threatening. […]

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Environmental researchers have uncovered a wealth of information about a unique part of Australia that offers never-before-seen insights into climate change since the last ice age. The work – led by the University of Adelaide, and involving scientists from the Queensland Government, and members of the local community – has uncovered what the researchers describe […]

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Kris Helgen

Professor Kris Helgen was featured on the Counterpoint podcast hosted by Amanda Vanstone yesterday. Professor Helgen spoke about the importance and benefits of having many experts in expeditions to remote locations such as New Guinea. Prof Helgen speaks about trekking with photographers, botanists, entomologists and local experts. Travelling with local and international experts from the […]

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The Australian public is being called on to help better understand and conserve our iconic native echidna, by collecting echidna scats (poo) and taking photographs wherever echidnas or scats are spotted. University of Adelaide researchers are launching a new citizen science project to address important questions about echidna numbers and distribution and to obtain material […]

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We would like to congratulate the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA and the South Australian Museum for their Aboriginal Hair Project, which won a Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Research last night. The black tie award ceremony awarded 17 awards for the best scientific research, citizen science and research in the last year within […]

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aboriginal hair

A project creating the first genetic map of Aboriginal Australia before European arrival has won national recognition with the 2017 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research. The Aboriginal Heritage Project is led by the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) in partnership with the South Australian Museum, and in collaboration with […]

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The following Media Release has been reposted from Goyder Water Research Institute: Multidisciplinary research team working to determine the value of South Australia’s coastal carbon ecosystems The recently-commenced project Coastal Carbon Opportunities: demonstrating additionality and potential for future offsets in South Australia will see a multidisciplinary research team working to determine the value of the state’s coastal […]

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Alexandra cave_Steve Bourne

Dr Liz Reed is an adjunct Professor and Honourary Research Fellow at the South Australian Museum. Dr Reed gave a talk at the Sprigg Lecture Series on the 15 August on her work with the Naracoorte caves, off the back of the announcement of a $2 million dollar Linkage grant. Dr Liz Reed has been […]

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