Darwin’s Frog: Incredible Parenting Skills and Still Going Extinct

Darwins Frog, darwin's frog, (10)
Darwins Frog, darwin's frog, (2)

Photo: Zoological Society of London

Darwins Frog, darwin's frog, (3)

Photo: Nat Geo TV

darwins frog

Photo: Jose Luis Saavedra

Habitat: native to the forest streams of Chile and Argentina

Status: Vulnerable – possibly extinct?

Charles Darwin was lucky enough to discover this incredible frog during his world voyage on the HMS Beagle. For that reason, it has his name. This is Darwin’s Frog (Rhinoderma darwinii), a bizarre creature that only reaches a size of  2.5–3.5 cm. These frogs can be either brown or green but all of the males possess a peculiar parenting trait that makes it one of the coolest amphibians in the world.

Take a look at the animation above. The alien-like motion in the frog’s chin is due to tadpoles moving about in the male’s vocal pouch!

Illustration of developing Darwin’s Frog tadpoles in male’s vocal pouch.

What happens is, it’s the female’s job to lay around 30 eggs. The male then stands guard for about two weeks until they hatch. Once they do, he scoops the tads’ into his mouth where they finish developing into froglets inside his vocal pouch. The tadpoles are able to grow within the baggy chin skin by eating their egg yolk – yum! When the tiny tadpoles are big enough (about half an inch) their father spits them out and then they’re on their own. Talk about leading a sheltered life!!
Darwins Frog, darwin's frog, (5)

Photo: Patricia Fogden

Now, Darwin’s Frogs are noted for their superb camouflaging ability. Their mottled green and brown coloring, pointed nose and textured skin makes them look more like a leaf than a living thing. Unfortunately, camouflage is no match against disease. Darwin’s frogs – both the Northern and Southern species – are thought to be going extinct, and the Northern might be extinct already, from a deadly fungus that is infecting amphibians around the world. The fungus, called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or chytrid fungus, has devastated many amphibian populations, but this might be the first case of an ‘extinction by infection.’

An organization aptly named Save Darwin’s Frogs is currently looking to update the status of both Rhinoderma species in the field, assess the threats they face there, and preserve a piece of amphibian biodiversity through a captive breeding program in Chile, with the ultimate goal of reintroducing the species back into the environment. You can read more about their work at the Save Darwin’s Frog website.

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