This small, round frog from South Africa is named after Bilbo Baggins, from The Hobbit. It lives underground and only comes out when it’s rainy or misty. It has a small round body, short legs, a white stomach and a dark strip across its eyes.
It is known only from two tiny patches in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, one of which is in the Melmouth-Babanango area in Zululand, close to where Jeremy spent much of his time.
Rain Frogs in general are a peculiar group endemic to southern Africa (i.e. not found anywhere else in the world). They have flat faces, and grumpy, down-turned mouths. They spend most of their lives in burrows in soil and have especially adapted back feet for the purpose of digging backwards underground – something they can do surprisingly quickly for generally slow-moving frogs. Above ground, they walk or run, rather than hop as most other frogs.
When alarmed, they inflate their bodies into an almost spherical ball in the hopes of making themselves look bigger to the intending predator.
During the breeding season, the males call – usually a whistle of sorts – to attract females. Once a willing mate has been secured the pair literally become glued together, and it can be days that the female carries the willing male (smaller than her) until eggs are laid. The pair burrow down into soil and build a chamber in which the jelly like ball of eggs is deposited – in the case of Bilbo’s Rain Frog, between 20 and 50 eggs.
Rain Frogs have no free-swimming tadpole stage. This means that unlike most frogs, they don’t need open water, and metamorphosis is completed underground, with tiny baby rain frogs emerging fully formed – super cute!
Thank you to Dr Jeanne Tarrant for this post – I know Gumby would have loved the idea of this little frog with its downturned mouth!