Though I will never tire of watching a leopard lazing in a marula or the juddering ribcage of a lion as he belts out a thunderous roar there are also the smaller aspects of a drive that can be just as exciting. For instance, and I know this may be an extreme example but stay with me here, finding a frog that you’ve never actually seen before!
The day was slowly drawing to a close and we were looking to find a spot to hop off the vehicle, stretch our legs and have a sundowner in the bush. It’s a period in the day when everything feels lazy, the reddening sun bathes the landscape in gold and it just feels right to slow right down and take it all in.
As we rounded a bend something caught my eye, something strange, something quite bizarre. Not wanting to miss something potentially new I brought the vehicle to an abrupt halt and quickly backed up. And there, perched on the edge of a small pool of muddy water, sat a sight of spectacular proportions, an African Bullfrog!
At the time, besides yelling that this is the biggest frog that we get here at Londolozi, I flung myself from the saddle to try and get a quick shot. I quickly began to realise that I really didn’t know too much about these gargantuan amphibians. And so, I decided to do a bit more reading. In no particular order here are four pretty awesome facts about the African Bullfrog.
- This particular frog was a female, based on its colouration and relatively small size. This is unusual in the amphibian world where the females usually outsize the males by a significant margin. Bullfrog males can be monstrous, reaching up to 25cm/10” in length and weighing up to 1.8kg/4pounds! This makes the next fact pretty terrifying…
- They have teeth! Ok, they don’t really. But they have three structures called odontodes on their bottom jaw; toothlike growths that grow superficially on the top of the skin. These allow them to gain a firm grip on their unfortunate victims…
- And their victims are numerous. Bullfrogs are known to be voracious predators, eating almost anything they can subdue and swallow! They will eat snakes, reptiles, amphibians, insects, mice, other small mammals, or even small birds.
These croaking cannibals are not above eating each other, and it is common for a bullfrog tadpole to start eating its brothers and sisters as it emerges from the egg. A father bullfrog will sometimes make a meal of some of the eggs or tadpoles he is guarding!
- Raising the hatchlings is a patriarchal affair and a male bullfrog, provided he is not snacking on his offspring, can be a fantastic father. Post-mating, the female will leave the male to the task of guarding the brood. If the pool that the tadpoles (sometimes up to 4000 of them) are born into is drying up the father will dig a trench to a neighbouring pool to save them. Other than that, the father protects the pool against marauding frogs as well as carnivorous birds and any such animal that poses a threat to his young. And these dads are not afraid to punch well above their weight, it being commonplace to see these monsters soaring majestically through the air, mouth agape, razor-sharp (not quite) odontodes bared to partially ingest the toe of a wellington boot or unwary frogger’s finger.
African Bullfrogs are one of the rarer species we find here at Londolozi and this female must have just emerged from a period of aestivation (essentially hibernation but for amphibians) where she had waited out the dry winter months buried somewhere around a foot deep in a cocoon of her own skin!
It was a sighting that lasted only minutes but it’s minutes like those that can add that extra dimension to a game drive, that extra element of perhaps the lesser cared for yet still fascinating aspects of the bush.