A ten pound frog frog lived in ancient Madagascar

A frog that could swallow a small theropod dinosaur? Well, maybe: it was large enough, and weighed in at a hefty ten pounds (4.5 kilograms). This animal, with the clever name of Beelzebufo, was first described in 2008, but a new paper in PNAS by Susan Evans et al. (reference and free link below), describes a full species, Beelzebufo ampinga, based on a larger sample of fossils from Madagascar.  The name is scientifically given and described as follows:

Etymology. The generic name is based on Beel’zebul (Greek), Devil, and Bufo (Latin), toad, in reference to the size and probable life appearance of this anuran; the specific epithet, ampinga (Malagasy), means shield, in reference to cranial hyperossification.

Here’s an artist’s reconstruction of B. ampinga next to a normal frog and a pencil. Its skull was up to eight inches wide, its length was about sixteen inches (40 cm) and it’s been described as having the size and appearance of  a “squashed beach ball.” It lived about 65-70 million years ago, and may be the largest frog that ever lived. We’ll never know for sure given the incompleteness of the fossil record and the fragility of frog bones, but it’s a big ‘un:

The animal was reconstructed from bits of its skull and vertebrae, and part of its pelvis. Here are some fragments; if you want to see what they are, go to the paper.

And the reconstruction, with the discovered fossilized parts in white and the presumed remainder stippled. The caption gives two living frogs for a size comparison:

(Fig 2 in paper): (A) Skull reconstruction showing parts preserved (white areas, Left) and distribution of pit-and-ridge ornament (stippling, Right). (B) Skeletal reconstruction and inferred body outline of average-sized (skull width, 200 mm; SVL, 425 mm) adult female B. ampinga based mainly on Lepidobatrachus asper (32). White areas indicate parts represented by fossil specimens. For size comparison, dorsal view silhouettes of Ceratophrys aurita (the largest extant ceratophryine) (C), and Mantidactylus guttulatus (the largest extant Malagasy frog) (D), are shown. cp, crista parotica; fm, foramen magnum; frp, frontoparietal; mx, maxilla; n, nasal; pmx, premaxilla; qj, quadratojugal; qu, quadrate; sq, squamosal. (Scale bars: 50 mm.)

A new article in National Geographic gives a layperson’s take (the paper itself is full of arcane vertebrate paleontology):

These largely terrestrial frogs may have been as ill-tempered and aggressive as their living relatives, the ceratophyrines of South America, scientists say. Ceratophyrines are nasty sit-and-wait predators that are eager to snap at just about anything that happens by, experts note. The ancient devil frogs may have snatched lizards, small vertebrates, and possibly even hatchling dinosaurs with their huge mouths and powerful jaws.

Scientists announced Beelzebufo in February 2008 more than a decade after the first bits of fossilized remains from the species were found. Its name is derived from Beelzebub, Greek for “devil,” and bufo, Latin for toad. Ampinga means “armored,” describing the prominent cranial shield the species had on its head.

One sidelight of interest: its closest relatives are not on Madagascar, but on the South American mainland, and it’s very different from living and fossil frogs on Madagascar. The conventional wisdom is that the land that now comprises the conglomorate of Seychelles + Madagascar + the Indian subcontinent drifted away from Antarctica/Australia/South America about 120 million years ago. But there is some evidence from other groups that there were physical links between Madagascar + India and South America up to about 80 million years ago in the late Cretaceous—when this frog lived.  The fact that this frog lived at that more recent period, and has its closest affinities with frogs from South America, supports the latter hypothesis, though not strongly. Another alternative is that the ancestors of this frog were simply one-off survivors that floated away from South America over 100 million years ago and weren’t part of the radiation of other frogs on Madagascar. A third alternative, which is the least likely, is that its ancestors somehow made it over the ocean from South America about 70 million years ago, perhaps on a floating raft of vegetation. That seems unlikely, however, as salt water is deadly to amphibians.

It would be lovely to see this thing alive, but alas, the inexorable course of evolution prevents that. Maybe George Church can bring it back!


Evans, S. E., M. E. H. Jonesand D. W. Krause A giant frog with South American affinities from the Late Cretaceous of MadagascarPNAS 2008 105 (8) 2951-2956; published ahead of print February 19, 2008, doi:10.1073/pnas.0707599105



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink


  2. darrelle
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    The artist’s reconstruction looks remarkably like a Pacman frog to me.

    • Posted October 9, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Or Jabba the Hutt.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 11, 2017 at 2:01 am | Permalink

      Thus the reference to ceratophyrines–the current species of which share the nasty disposition. 😉 (As I’m sure you know.)

  3. Bob Murray
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    The French would have loved this bugger!

  4. FB
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    This Wikipedia entry says cane toads eat dogs.


    • FB
      Posted October 9, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, just kill dogs. Probably not to eat them.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 9, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        They kill inquisitive dogs by poisoning them (I presume the dog must lick or bite the toad for it to happen).

        Altogether nasty buggers (and I like most toads/frogs).

        P.S. An Australian ‘Pommie’ (Englishman) joke I love:
        A pommie walks into a bar with a cane toad sitting on his head.
        Barman: Where’d you get that?
        And the toad says “It started as a wart on my arse”.


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 9, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        And on the subject of poisonous cane toads, this is interesting (from Wikipedia):

        “Poisonous sausages containing toad meat are being trialled in the Kimberley (Western Australia) to try to protect native animals from cane toads’ deadly impact. The Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation has been working with the University of Sydney to develop baits to train native animals not to eat the toads. By blending bits of toad with a nausea-inducing chemical, the baits train the animals to stay away from the amphibians.”


        • Diane G.
          Posted October 11, 2017 at 2:02 am | Permalink

          Interesting tactic–hope it works!

  5. Chris Swart
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    A handsome devil!

  6. Heather Hastie
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    What a cool creature! Thanks for interpreting this paper Jerry – it’s way beyond my pay grade.

  7. J. Quinton
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    “Its name is derived from Beelzebub, Greek for “devil,””

    I don’t think that’s correct. Greek for “devil” is diabolos; and you can tell it’s Greek because it’s made up of Greek compound words. “Dia” means “through” or “every” and “bolos” means “throw” (it came to mean “accuser”/”liar” and then “devil” due to the metaphor of ‘hurling accusations’). Similar to parabolic (throw next to) and hyperbolic (throw over).

    Beelzebub is a Semitic word. “Beel” is how Greek speaking Jews wrote “Baal”, which is Hebrew for “Lord”. And that’s as far as my memory will allow me to play the pedant 🙂

  8. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting! There always seems to be something bigger and scarier on the other side of the K-T boundary.

  9. alexandra Moffat
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Imagine stepping on this when you take the dog out at 2 AM in the rain and dark…

  10. BJ
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    This summer, the newest terror comes to town.

    Witness…The Frog Frog

    One look
    and you’ll croak

    • barn owl
      Posted October 9, 2017 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      I toad you not to open the back door!

      • BJ
        Posted October 9, 2017 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

        Look, I had to go out and get condoms that were ribbited for her pleasure!

      • busterggi
        Posted October 10, 2017 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        Eft off!

  11. busterggi
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    The ancestor of the Loveland frog!

  12. loren russell
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Very odd that the author gives the derivation of Beelzebub as Greek — it’s quite evidently Semitic in origin, and seens to have originated as a Jewish pun/slur on the Phoenician Baal, making Baalzebul, “god of the heavens” into Baalzebub, “lord of the flies” or “god of dung”.

    At one time, generic names were to be “treated as” Greek or Latin proper nouns, the recommendation being that they actually be derived from those languages. Of course no one polices the niceties of biological nomenclature these days.

  13. Walt Jones
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Beelzebub has an amphibian set aside for me.

  14. Posted October 9, 2017 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Instead of wildlife pics, we get wilddeath pics.

    That was a terrible joke.

  15. eric
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Pleased to meet you, won’t you croak my name! 🙂

    I’m seeing Toadnado in SyFy’s future. Although “Beelzebufo” would make a pretty good schlock movie title without any added cheese needed.

  16. Posted October 9, 2017 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    I would think or at least I would like to think it had a croak like a fog horn… the mating ritual would be an almighty din.

  17. claudia baker
    Posted October 10, 2017 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I would have a heart attack if these were hopping all over my lawn, like the little critters that are there now, cause of all the rain we’re had all summer.

  18. Posted October 10, 2017 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Yep. that’s one mother of a frog frog, if ever I seen one!

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