Devil Frog Had Spiked Armor Possibly to Keep Dinosaurs at Bay

February 4, 2014

An ancient frog whose fossilized bones were discovered in 1998 and reconstructed 10 years later with a mostly complete set of bones is one of the largest frog fossils discovered to date, spanning more than 7 inches in length from snout to feet. What is more interesting is that this "devil frog" sported spiked body armor that scientists speculate may have helped it ward off dinosaurs and crocodiles that roamed the earth during the Cretaceous Period in which it lived.


Illustration by Nobu Tamura/Wikipedia

Beelzebufo ampinga, a frog from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar.


Beelzebufo ampinga, which resembles the horned frogs (aka Pacman frogs) of today, had a large globular head and mouth filled with sharp teeth and short rear legs. The spiky flanges and the plates may have helped to protect itself or it could have enabled the amphibian to burrow, escaping the heat of the hot sun. Whatever the role the armor played in the frog's biology, it makes this particular species interesting to the scientists studying it.

The frog lived in what is now Madagascar during the final period of the last non-avian dinosaurs and its first size estimates in 2008 were lengths of up to 16 inches and weighing 10 lbs. The new discovery nearly halves the length estimate to seven-and-a-half inches. The complete fossil does help the scientists, led by University College London paleontologist Susan Evans to get a better perceived understanding of the frog. They believe that the frog burrowed into the earth to escape heat, was too top heavy to hop and spent its time walking over the earth looking for food.

Beelzebufo may have spent the hottest, driest periods fully or partially buried, possibly within a cocoon, as do many arid-adapted living anurans,” the scientists say in their paper, “emerging to feed and reproduce during periods of wetter and/or cooler conditions.”

Beelzebufo may have been a voracious little dinosaur eater, or not. Nevertheless, the fossil that has emerged, as well as the digital animations and illustrations does show the "devil frog" is still as fantastical as first imagined.

The closest living relative is the horned frogs of South America. They grow to about four inches in length, rarely longer than six inches and can live 20 years in captivity. These frogs are voracious eaters, consuming most anything that they can fit into their mouths. But, as adult, they can be fed just once every two weeks.

Want to Learn More?

Ornate Horned Frog

Pac Man Frog Care Sheet

The full study can be read on the PLoS One website.

Check the Youtube video that shows a reenactment of the large frog devouring a dinosaur at 4:09 of the clip.

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