Darwin’s Frog (Rhinoderma darwinii)

Darwin was a pretty cool dude, so it stands to reason that the animals named after him would also be fairly interesting. I wanted to blog about this frog because it looked so funny, and of course once I read about it I just had to write a post on it. Animals are always so much more interesting once you learn about them.

Darwin’s frog is an amphibian found in South America, in southern Chile and Argentina. It likes to live in temperate forests where there is lots of moisture and leaf litter. If there’s nice stagnant water nearby, all the better.

It does look like a leaf, doesn't it?  Image source: Wikipedia

It does look like a leaf, doesn’t it?
Image source: Wikipedia

The reason Darwin’s frog is so comfortable around leaves is that it thinks it’s one. Thanks to its pointy nose and colouring, the frog blends in perfectly with a pile of leaves. They are fairly small frogs, reaching only 3 cm in length. Frogs can range from bright green to brown, with the underparts of the frog being black and white, which is probably why Darwin’s frogs don’t usually lie in leaf litter upside down.

I say usually because in actuality Darwin’s frogs do sometimes hang around on their backs. For the most part the frogs stay still and hide within some leaves, soaking up the sun and waiting for insects to fly by. When threatened, however, the frog will play dead by flipping itself over and lying completely still. If the frog is feeling particularly theatrical, it will leap into any nearby water, and again turn itself on its back. I think the added touch of the water is quite dramatic.

Breeding season for Darwin’s frogs occurs from November to March. When a male finds a pretty looking female, he takes her to a nice secluded spot where they can get down to business. Once the female has laid her eggs, she runs off, leaving all parenting to the male. He guards the eggs until they start to wiggle, and then he does what any good parent would do. He eats them.

A 'pregnant' Darwin's frog.  Photo credit:  Michael and Patricia Fogden

A ‘pregnant’ Darwin’s frog.
Photo credit: Michael and Patricia Fogden

Well, that’s not exactly true. He grabs each egg with his tongue and slips them through slits in his mouth so they fall into his vocal sac. There the eggs remain, even after they hatch. That’s right, the male frog carries around a whole bunch of tadpoles until metamorphosis is complete. Then he lets his little ones find their way on their own. He can carry up to 19 growing frogs in his vocal sac, the weight of which deforms the internal organs of the father frog.

It’s pretty impressive for any father to put that much work into his children, let alone a frog father. I’d say that Darwin’s frog lives up to its name, but I have no idea if Darwin was a good father, or if he even had kids. Though I bet if he did he wouldn’t have raised them in his throat, so maybe I shouldn’t compare his frog with people.

Cover image source: http://guardianlv.com/2013/11/charles-darwin-challenges-within-legacy/

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