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Research Note – Amazing Parental Care Supplied by Mountain Chicken Frogs

In the late 1980’s I was privileged to breed the now rarely-seen Smoky Jungle Frog, Leptodactylus pentadactylus, a large (8 inch snout-vent length) Latin American native that constructs foam nests on  Smoky Jungle Frogland.  In the wild, rain washes the tadpoles into a nearby pool, where they develop in normal frog fashion…following suit, I successfully reared a number in water.  I subsequently learned that some frog nests are placed far from the water’s edge, and that the tadpoles therein develop entirely on land.  But what did they eat…the nest’s foam, perhaps?  There were theories, but no answers.

Subterranean Frog Nests

Herpetologists working with the closely related Mountain Chicken Frog (L. fallax) at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust have recently solved the riddle – and captured the bizarre event on film.  Mountain Chicken Frogs, highly endangered and limited to Dominica, St. Kits, Martinique and a few neighboring islands, lay their eggs in foam nests underground, and the tadpoles develop without ever seeing water.

The startling footage taken by the researchers, shows scores of tadpoles gorging on unfertilized eggs produced by their mother.  In sharp contrast to certain more “civilized” oophagus (egg-eating) poison frog tadpoles, the chicken frog larvae do not wait until the eggs are actually deposited, but rather swarm about the female’s cloaca, eating ravenously as the eggs emerge.  It’s quite a scene!

A Taxing Time for Mom

Leptodactylus fallaxSubsequent research has revealed that the harried mother uses her rear legs in an attempt to re-distribute the unusual food, and perhaps to give all of her gluttonous progeny a chance to feed.  She has her work cut out for her…the 25 to 50 tadpoles that she rears require 10,000 to 25,000 unfertilized eggs to see them through to metamorphosis!

Further Reading

Frogs break all the rules when it comes to reproductive behavior, constantly surprising even the most seasoned herpetologists.  To read about tadpoles that “petition” their mother for food, please see my article Begging Behavior Among Strawberry Poison Frog Tadpoles.


Smoky Jungle Frog image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Ltshears
Leptodactylus fallax image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by TimVickers

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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