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A Frog First – the Fang-Bearing Tadpoles of the Vampire Flying Frog

Rhacophorus malabaricusThe year 2011 has barely begun, but it is already supplying amphibian enthusiasts with exciting news items.  One of the most surprising is the discovery that the tadpoles of the newly-described Vampire Flying Frog, Rhacophorus vampyrus, sport hard, sharp fangs…a previously unknown amphibian adaptation.

A Surprise in the Treetops

Biologists from Australia, Vietnam and the USA (North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences) uncovered the new frog and its odd tadpoles while surveying montane forest canopies on the Langbian Plateau in southern Vietnam.  Their findings, published in the journal Zootaxa (please see article below), have left herpetologists wondering just why tadpoles might need such odd mouthparts…certainly not to puncture veins, as their common name suggests!

The unique tadpoles seem to hatch from eggs deposited in water-filled tree hollows high above the ground, but beyond that we know nothing of their natural history.

Tadpole Teeth

Tooth structure is an important means of identifying tadpoles, especially given that so many are difficult to distinguish by eye.  Most bear circular rings of rasping teeth or beak-like mouthparts; those of the Vampire Flying Frog sport a pair of hard, sharp black fang-like structures that arise from the lower jaw.  While Horned Frog and some other tadpoles are highly carnivorous, none have evolved such specialized dentition.

The New Frog and its Relatives

The Vampire Flying Frog is classified within the family Rhacophoridae, a widespread group of 319 largely arboreal frogs (please see photos for examples).  Several, including Wallace’s Flying Frog and the Golden Treefrog, have evolved the ability to glide (please see drawing) and are popular in the pet trade.

Wallace FrogAs of now, the Vampire Treefrog is known only from the Bidoup-Nui Ba National Preserve in southern Vietnam.  In common with other Vietnamese amphibians living at high altitudes, it is threatened by the expansion of coffee farms.  Its discovery brings the number of known amphibians to 6,138, many of which have been found only in the past 2 decades.


Further Reading

Original Zootaxa article describing the new frog, along with photos.

Natural History and Care of the Asian Flying Frog

Rhacophorus malabaricus image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by L. Shyamal



  1. avatar

    great news!!! my tadpole dentistry business has been really slow.

    • avatar

      Hello Robert, Frank Indiviglio here.

      That explains the tiny drill and tooth-srcapers I saw last time I was by, thanks!

      Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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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