February 28 – An Amazing Anuran

Today’s Factismal: The Goliath Frog is as large as a newborn human baby.

What’s as big as a loaf of bread, weighs as much as a house cat, and is usually wet? It’s the Goliath Frog! These amazing anurans (what biologists call their order, based on the Greek for “without a tail”) have been swimming around in African rivers for 250 million years. Though they used to be much more widespread, changes in rivers, reduction of their habitat by building, and their popularity as a meal by many people has severely reduced their numbers. Today, the Goliath frog is an endangered species.

The world's biggest frog (Image courtesy San Diego Zoo)

The world’s biggest frog (Image courtesy San Diego Zoo)

The Goliath frog starts its life as an ordinary-sized tadpole in a swift river. Like most babies, the tadpoles will eat only one type of food, an aquatic plant that only lives next to fast moving water, such as rapids and waterfalls. As they get larger and metamorphose into adults, the frogs start to be a little more cosmopolitan in their feeding habits; adults will eat insects, worms, crabs, snakes, turtles, and even bats! Once they reach maturity, the male frogs will build small weirs of pebbles; these cozy nooks will double as bachelor pads and spawning grounds. The females will deposit eggs as a large mass onto vegetation near the weirs; the males fertilize the eggs and then both of the adults swim off into the sunset, abandoning the babies to their fate. After about 90 days, the eggs hatch into tadpoles and the cycle starts all over again.

If it isn’t eaten by a crocodile, nile monitor, or person, a Goliath frog can live for fifteen years before it finally croaks. This is an unusually long time for frogs, which has made it of interest to medical researchers. However, because the Goliath frog is an endangered species, only 300 of them can be exported each year. And, since they do not breed well in captivity, there are only a few of these frogs available for research (or as pets).

If you’d like to help learn more about the frogs and toads that live near you, then try FrogWatch. Run by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, FrogWatch is dedicated to preserving our amphibian friends across the globe:
http://www.aza.org/frogwatch/

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