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Giant frog jumps continents

Publication date: Feb 19, 2008 9:15:50 AM

A giant frog fossil from Madagascar dubbed Beelzebufo or ‘the frog from Hell' has been identified by scientists from UCL (University College London) and Stony Brook University, New York. The discovery of the 70 million year-old fossil frog, of a kind once thought unique to South America, lends weight to a new theory that Madagascar, India and South America were linked until late in the Age of Dinosaurs.

The new frog resembles living Horned toads (ceratophryines or 'pac-man frogs') in having a squat body, huge head and wide mouth. With a body length (not counting the legs) of up to 40 cm – longer than a rugby ball - and a weight of around four kilos (10 pounds), it is more than twice the size of its largest living relatives. The fossil, published in the journal PNAS, enters the Malagasy history books alongside meat-eating dinosaurs, plant-eating crocodiles and giant snakes, all very different from the present day animals of Madagascar.

Professor Susan Evans of the UCL Department of Cell & Developmental Biology says: “This frog, a relative of today’s Horned toads, would have been the size of a slightly squashed beach-ball, with short legs and a big mouth. If it shared the aggressive temperament and ‘sit-and-wait’ ambush tactics of living Horned toads, it would have been a formidable predator on small animals. Its diet would most likely have consisted of insects and small vertebrates like lizards, but it’s not impossible that Beelzebufo might even have munched on hatchling or juvenile dinosaurs.

“Madagascar has a mainly endemic frog fauna whose history has generated intense debate, fuelled by recent phylogenetic studies and the near absence of a fossil record. Our discovery of a frog strikingly different from today’s Madagascan frogs, and akin to the Horned toads previously considered endemic to South America, lends weight to the controversial paleobiogeographical model suggesting that Madagascar, the Indian subcontinent and South America were linked well into the Late Cretaceous. It also suggests that the initial spread of such beasts began earlier than that proposed by recent estimates.”

Notes for Editors

1. For more information, please contact Professor Susan Evans on +44 (0)20 7679 9966, e-mail s.e.evans@ucl.ac.uk.

2. Alternatively, please contact Jenny Gimpel in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9726, mobile: +44 (0)7747 565 056, out of hours +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk.

3. ‘A giant frog with South American affinities from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar’, by Susan Evans, Marc Jones and David Krause, is published in the journal PNAS. Journalists can obtain copies of the paper by contacting the UCL Media Relations Office. An image is also available from the UCL Media Relations Office.

4. The Stony Brook project which carried out the fieldwork for this study is funded by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic. Identification and phylogenetic analysis of the specimens was primarily carried out at UCL.