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Miscellaneous Animals

Madagascar’s Devilishly Large Frog

Can a frog eat a dinosaur? Read about Madagascar’s “Devil Frog” to find out.

Can a frog eat a dinosaur? Why yes, they most certainly can. Currently, larger species of frogs routinely prey upon small birds, which are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs. I got you there, didn’t I? Okay, let me rephrase my initial question: could an extinct species of frog eat a non-avian dinosaur? In either scenario, the answer remains the same: yes. During the late cretaceous, a genus of frog from the island of Madagascar did become large enough to potentially eat dinosaurs. In doing so, this giant became the largest know genus of any frog, living or extinct.

Assigning a name to such a unique animal can certainly be difficult. In the case of our goliath frog, the paleontologists responsible for its discovery absolutely nailed it. They named it Beelzebufo, in ‘honour’ of the demon Beelzebub, the lord of the flies and the figure occasionally synonymous with Satan himself. For those who have trouble remembering the complicated Latin genus name, you can just call Beelzebufo the devil frog.

Be-elze-bub, Has a Devil Frog Put Aside For Me……

Beelzebufo earned the moniker of ‘devil frog’ because of its immense size and demonic appearance. By demonic appearance, I am referring to the pair of contiguous horns located atop its skull. Although the purpose of these horns is currently unknown, they would have given Beelzebufo a frightening appearance to potential predators. Just picture a set of beating eyes topped by a set of horns peering deep into the depths of your mind; a little creepy, wouldn’t you agree?

Beelzebufo Modern

Then there is the matter of Beelzebufo’s colossal size. With a length of 40 centimeters (almost 16 inches) and a weight of 9 pounds, the devil frog dwarfs the largest frog species alive today — the African goliath frog — by about 10 centimeters and 3 pounds. This difference may have been even greater, because the fragmented fossils of Beelzebufo could represent a juvenile individual. Look, I will be honest with you for a second: to you and me, Beelzebufo is not that big. The largest individuals probably wouldn’t even come close to hitting the knees of an average person. Put aside my previous statement, and think about this: the average riverbed frog caught on a rainy day is roughly 5 centimeters long and probably weighs less than a pound, right? Now compare that to a ground-dwelling frog the size of a housecat. Unsettling, if I say so myself….

A Diet Fit For The Devil…

Now it’s time for the million-dollar question: did Beelzebufo eat dinosaurs? When posing this question, I am of course referring to Beelzebufo eating smaller dinosaurs and juvenile individuals, as most fully-grown dinosaurs were large enough to flatten Beelzebufo with one-step. While there is no direct evidence of predation, there are quite a few features that suggest Beelzebufo did indeed feed on dinosaurs. Here are the facts:

Fact One: Open Wide!

One of the most striking features of Beelzebufo is its head. The skull, which made up a third of Beelzebufo’s entire body, would have comprised a formidable weapon. The skull is heavily enforced with bony plates across its surface, providing a layer of armour atop its most vulnerable area. These plates may have protected Beelzebufo from retaliation by caught prey, or they could have turned its head into a battering ram fit for attack. The jaws of Beelzebufo were extremely wide and would have allowed it to catch various sizes of prey, including animals the size of baby dinosaurs. Along the upper jaw lay a row of sharp teeth, which would have held prey in place with deadly proficiency. On top of all that, the jaws of Beelzebufo possessed a far more powerful tool to kill prey: a tremendous bite force.

Beelzebufo Majunga.jpg

By comparing Beelzebufo to its modern relatives, the Ceratophryids or “Pacman frogs”, paleontologists have been able to uncover its bite force. Since Pacman frogs have a consistent ratio of body size to bite force, paleontologists scaled up these results to determine the bite force of Beelzebufo. Their results indicated a bite force of around 2200 Newtons, which is equivalent to 500 pounds per square inch. To put that figure in comparison, it is double the bite force of the average human and is in the ballpark of well-known carnivores such as wolves and lions. If you dared to put your hand in its mouth, Beelzebufo would have been capable of tearing it to shreds. Beelzebufo wouldn’t need a powerful bite force if it was hunting flies, but it would have made sense if it were hunting more developed prey….like baby dinosaurs?

Fact Two: An Ambush Killer

While having a massive and powerful skull allowed Beelzebufo to swallow small prey whole, it also hampered its ability to move at high speeds. On each side of the skull were lateral flanges (extensions of bone) which lay atop the shoulder blades, making Beelzebufo a relatively slow mover. So how did it catch its prey? Once again, we must look at its modern ancestors for answers.

Beelzebufo camo.jpg

Pacman frogs are notoriously aggressive animals who will attack anything that crosses them, such as other frogs, rodents, birds and snakes. On occasion, this tendency will lead to the frogs killing prey that is actually bigger than themselves, demonstrating their ferocity as hunters. To catch their prey, they simply lie still and wait for their prey to come to them, gobbling them up with their massive jaws when the time is right. Additionally, Pacman frogs use skin patterns to camouflage within their surroundings, which helps make them even more effective as ambush predators. Since Beelzebufo and the Pacman frogs are close relatives, it is safe to assume that Beelzebufo would have possessed these adaptations. With this in mind, the possibility of Beelzebufo eating dinosaurs increases. It wouldn’t have had to chase swift prey, and its fearlessness would mean it would have had no qualms with hunting baby dinosaurs.

Fact Three: Same Time, Same Place:

Beelzebufo hails from the Maevarano formation of Madagascar, a region whose fossils date to the late Cretaceous period some 70 million years ago. At this time, Madagascar was inhabited by a strange collection of animals not found anywhere else in the world, including the cannibalistic dinosaur Majungasaurus (my favourite dinosaur), the flying raptor Rahonavis, and the plant-eating crocodile Simosuchus, just to name a few.

Beezlebufo

Chief amongst these animals was the sauropod Rapetosaurus, a mid-sized Titanosaur who occupied the role of top herbivore on the island. While the adult individuals were too large for Beelzebufo to attack, juveniles would have been fair game. Nesting sites of Titanosaurs found in South America contain thousands of eggs, making the tiny hatchlings an abundant source of potential prey for Beelzebufo. In addition to baby sauropods, the previously mentioned Rahonavis and juvenile Majungasaurus fit the size criteria for a Beelzebufo attack. To be a juvenile dinosaur in Cretaceous Madagascar would have been a hellish experience with Beelzebufo around.

How Did it Get to Madagascar in the First Place?

About those Pacman frog relatives: they are native to South America and are found nowhere else in the world. So how the hell (puns!) did a South American frog end up on the island of Madagascar? It’s a question that has puzzled experts for years, largely due to the timeline of Madagascar’s isolation. Madagascar initially separated from Africa some 160 Million years ago, with its full isolation occurring about 88 million years ago when it broke apart from modern-day India. Based on phylogenetic analysis, the evolution of Pacman frogs is believed to have occurred shortly after the breakup of India and Madagascar. So, I’ll ask again: how could it have possibly got there?

Late Cretaceous

The leading hypothesis is that a land bridge connected South America and Madagascar through Antarctica. This would explain the similarities between the wildlife of both respective landmasses, including the presence of Beelzebufo in Madagascar. Having said this, there is no physical evidence of such a passage existing and as such it seems dubious. The next proposed method of travel involves the concept of rafting, in which animals’ cross oceans across large barges of material. Despite its plausibility, this seems unlikely due to the sheer distance between South America and Madagascar. How about rafting from Africa? Even though no fossils of Pacman frogs are known from Africa, this doesn’t mean they weren’t there, as the fossil record of late Cretaceous Africa is notoriously unknown. While this is possible, it is strange that no living Pacman frogs can be found in Africa, a possible indicator that they never were there to begin with. A third proposed theory is that Beelzebufo is not a Pacman frog relative to begin with, but an example of convergent evolution in which distantly related animals evolve similar traits. Once again, this theory is possible, but the sheer number of shared traits between Pacman frogs and Beelzebufo likely isn’t a coincidence, but rather a sign of relation between the two. Until new research uncovers a clear answer, how Beelzebufo came to live in Madagascar remains a mystery.

As the Mesozoic era drew to a close, Beelzebufo flourished in the seasonal climate of Cretaceous Madagascar. It grew to unparalleled sizes on a diet comprised primarily of the most available food on the island; baby dinosaurs. However, life for Beelzebufo was not meant to last. Like the dinosaurs it fed on, Beelzebufo went extinct 65 million years ago following the impact of a massive asteroid in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. In its aftermath, the devil frog vanished for good, leaving the world with one hell of a gap where it once stood.

Reference:

I do not take credit for any artwork found within this article. 

Beelzebufo alongside a modern relative found here

Beelzebufo eating a baby Majungasaurus illustrated by Todd Marshall, found here

Beelzebufo feasting on a dinosaur illustrated by Atrox1 on DeviantArt, found here

Late Cretaceous globe found Here

Pacman frog camouflage found Here

Chang, Kenneth. “Paleontologists Reconstruct a Monster Frog.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Feb. 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/science/18frog.html.

Evans, Susan E., et al. “New Material of Beelzebufo, a Hyperossified Frog (Amphibia: Anura) from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 28 Jan. 2014, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0087236#s4.

“First Dinosaur Embryo Skin Discovered — Unhatched Embryos Are First Ever Found Of Giant-Plant Eating Dinosaurs.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 18 Nov. 1998, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/11/981118081844.htm#:~:text=If%20the%20tiny%20embryos%20from,of%20a%20modern%2Dday%20lizard.

“Goliath Frog.” San Diego Zoo Global Animals and Plants, animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/goliath-frog.

Lappin, A.K., Wilcox, S.C., Moriarty, D.J. et al. “Bite force in the horned frog (Ceratophrys cranwelli) with implications for extinct giant frogs”. Sci Rep 7, 11963 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-11968-6

Pappas, Stephanie. “What Is Gondwana?” LiveScience, Purch, 7 June 2013, www.livescience.com/37285-gondwana.html#:~:text=Between%20about%20170%20million%20and,South%20Atlantic%20Ocean%20between%20them.

Prothero, Donald R. The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution. COLUMBIA University Press, 2018.

“R Is for Rapetosaurus.” National Geographic, 10 Feb. 2013, www.nationalgeographic.com/science/phenomena/2013/02/10/r-is-for-rapetosaurus/.

Strauss, Bob. “Alive or Extinct, Which Animals Had the Strongest Bites?” ThoughtCo, 27 June 2019, www.thoughtco.com/strongest-bites-in-the-animal-kingdom-4099136#:~:text=English%20Mastiff%20(500%20PSI)&text=The%20largest%20dogs%20in%20the,500%20pounds%20per%20square%20inch.

Where Did All of Madagascar’s Species Come from?, Oct. 2009, evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/091001_madagascar.

Writers, Staff. “This Devil-Toad Likely Hunted Small Dinosaurs.” NewsComAu, News Corp Australia Network, 21 Sept. 2017, www.news.com.au/technology/science/evolution/beelzebufo-deviltoad-had-a-bite-as-bit-as-a-wolf-allowing-it-to-chompdown-on-small-dinosaurs/news-story/ea016899d4778dcfb28cf214a5578951#:~:text=These%20horned%20frogs%20can%20exert,30%20newtons%20%E2%80%94%20or%20about%203kg.&text=%E2%80%9CThis%20is%20the%20first%20time,at%20California%20State%20Polytechnic%20University.

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