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Field Guide to the Frogs of Australia

Field Guide to the Frogs of Australia

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Field Guide to the Frogs of Australia

410 pages
2 heures
Mar 2, 2020


Throughout much of the world, frog populations are declining, with the survival of many species under threat. In Australia, several species have become extinct in the past 35 years.

This second edition of Field Guide to the Frogs of Australia provides fully updated accounts of all the known frogs of Australia. There are 248 species within the five native frog families: Hylidae, Limnodynastidae, Microhylidae, Myobatrachidae and Ranidae. Also included are the introduced Cane Toad and nine ‘stowaway’ species that have arrived in Australia.

Each species account includes details of size, status, distribution, habitat, behaviour and advertisement call. Species are beautifully illustrated with full-colour paintings and distribution maps are also included. Closely related frogs are shown in identical poses so that comparisons can be made readily. The introductory section of the book covers frog biology and habitats and includes notes on families and genera.

Mar 2, 2020

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Field Guide to the Frogs of Australia - Frank Knight





Michael J Tyler and Frank Knight

Text © Michael J Tyler 2020

Colour illustrations © Frank Knight 2020

All rights reserved. Except under the conditions described in the Australian Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, duplicating or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. Contact CSIRO Publishing for all permission requests.

The author and illustrator assert their moral rights, including the right to be identified as a creator.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the National Library of Australia.

ISBN: 9781486312450 (pbk)

ISBN: 9781486312467 (epdf)

ISBN: 9781486312474 (epub)

Published by:

CSIRO Publishing

Locked Bag 10

Clayton South VIC 3169


Telephone: +61 3 9545 8400

Email: publishing.sales@csiro.au

Website: www.publish.csiro.au

Cover design by James Kelly

Typeset by Desktop Concepts Pty Ltd, Melbourne

Printed in China by Leo Paper Products Ltd.

CSIRO Publishing publishes and distributes scientific, technical and health science books, magazines and journals from Australia to a worldwide audience and conducts these activities autonomously from the research activities of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of, and should not be attributed to, the publisher or CSIRO. The copyright owner shall not be liable for technical or other errors or omissions contained herein. The reader/user accepts all risks and responsibility for losses, damages, costs and other consequences resulting directly or indirectly from using this information.

The paper this book is printed on is in accordance with the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council® and other controlled material. The FSC® promotes environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.


Michael Tyler has made major contributions to understanding the Australian frog fauna. He ‘pioneered’ frog studies in the Kimberley region – critically deciphering the bewildering diversity of toadlets in the genus Uperolia. He was the first to formally recognise that Australian ‘tree’ frogs were not the tree frogs the rest of the world knew. The submandibular musculature of Australian ‘tree’ frogs was consistently different from other global, tree frog lineages. Moreover, that difference transcended extreme differences in morphology between conventional ‘arboreal’ Australian tree frogs and the very different forms in the genus Cyclorana characterised by their relatively short limbs and burrowing habit. The systematics of tree frogs globally is in a current state of flux, no more so than in the Australian fauna, but Tyler carefully navigates his own line through that minefield. The Myobatrachidae, the second major frog family in Australia, gets a similarly conservative but sensible taxonomic treatment.

This book incorporates a wealth of field knowledge and fundamental natural history as well as its formal taxonomy and species identification guides. Tyler described the bizarre breeding biology of Rheobatrachus species – gastric brooding of developing eggs. He and I traipsed across sand dunes at Shark Bay and wondered at being able to track frogs, species of Arenophryne, that walk not hop, leaving distinctive trails across the dune surface. There is a combination of a wealth of field experience and systematic knowledge that informs the dialogue this book offers.

This book is superbly illustrated: not with the omnipresent photographs used in most similarly comprehensive field guides but with colour paintings of each species by Frank Knight – continuing a successful collaboration forged in earlier editions of this volume. Those illustrations continue a long history of sophisticated artwork in Australian frog biology. Myobatrachus gouldii, known in Western Australia as the turtle frog, and source of the family name Myobatrachidae, was illustrated in black and white by J. E. Gray in the formal description of this species in 1841. H. W. Parker, 1940, and J. A. Moore, 1961, in their respective monographs on Australian frogs had similarly elegant line drawings, a tradition continued in A. K. Lee’s 1967 monograph on the genus Heleioporus with meticulous illustrations by Lee’s wife! Illustration was ‘revived’ by M. Anstis in her 2013 monograph on Australian tadpoles and frogs and by Anstis and E. Walsh in a recent comparison of tadpole and adult frog evolution in Australia.

Knight’s gouache paintings allow an overview of colour patterns: not just pink, green or a shade of brown, but a synthesis of human perceptions of colour, the essence of the variation in each species. Artwork is still common in guides to fishes, birds and in botanical illustration, but photography has long taken over in most field guides in herpetology. Knight’s figures give this book an edge, a different, personal, human perspective, on frog form and diversity in Australia.

This Second Edition of Field Guide to the Frogs of Australia is a perfect balance between taxonomy and natural history. It effectively combines the formality of science and the joy of art, as well as providing a practical guide for recognising Australian frog species. Mike Tyler and Frank Knight – thanks.

J. Dale Roberts

10 September 2019





Families and genera



Species accounts

Checklist of families, genera and species



Index of scientific names

Index of common names


Among the visitors to Australia in 1952 was the American zoologist John Moore who had come to study frogs. Five years later there were complaints that he had still not published the results of his travels. In fact, it was not until 1961 that the American Museum of Natural History produced a tome that had been worth waiting for. Local herpetologists were overjoyed. At last the Australia frog fauna was completely known: Moore recognised no less than 93 native species!

Today that total has increased to 247 species. Moore’s total has been more than doubled in less than 60 years. The regular discovery of even more species new to science raises the possibility of Moore’s figure being tripled to 279. Already I have 10 species yet to be described and I am sure that there are many others in remote areas just waiting to be picked up.

Even of those species that have been named there remain several for whom there is a need to discover the most fundamental information. For example, the small burrowing frog known as Uperoleia marmorata which was collected by Grey in 1841 during an expedition following a segment of the Prince Regent River in the Kimberley of Western Australia. It was described by Gray (not Grey) in 1841 and not seen since. It has been reported in several states, but the identifications have been wrong. What sets U. marmorata apart from other species are green markings on its head and body. None of the 27 other Uperoleia species has any green markings.

How does the Australian frog fauna compare with that of other continents? The only continents in which the herpetofauna is reasonably well known are Europe and North America. In each of those areas the Amphibia comprises not just the frogs and toads, but also the four-legged salamanders and, in Europe, newts. In fact, salamanders are numerically dominant in North America where there are 186 species compared with 98 frogs (of which four were introduced).

The European frog fauna is depauperate in comparison with only 22 species, while there are 16 salamanders and the flat-tailed newts. But included is what is termed an Olm, which is a permanent larva about 250 mm long, with external gills and capable of breeding. It can lay eggs or a couple of completely formed juveniles. The Olm is confined to subterranean streams and lakes in limestone in the former Yugoslavia.

Many people have provided information and it gives me pleasure to acknowledge that thanks are due to Marion Anstis, the late Ken Aplin, Renee Catullo, Hal Cogger, David Flack, Lydia Fucsko, Conrad Hoskin, Keith McDonald, Will Osborne, Robert Palmer, Andrew Stauber and John Wombey.

Finally, Frank Knight and I thank the production team at CSIRO Publishing. In particular, we are grateful to the Publisher, Briana Melideo, and the Editorial Manager, Tracey Kudis. I also thank my wife Ella who helped me with clerical support.

Michael J. Tyler


The principal purpose of a field guide is to assist the process of identification. Pattern, colour, size, skin texture, male advertisement call, odour and geographic distribution, all can contribute to determining identifications. In this field guide I have tried to minimise the effort needed to achieve an accurate identification. Using keys can be laborious and the simplest method is to flick through the illustrations and check the distribution maps, although this will not help in situations where hearing the call is vital to distinguish similar species.

Latin names

Each species is associated with a genus, and the generic name precedes the specific. As opposed to common or colloquial names, one of the greatest attributes of Latin names has been their stability and the existence of official guidelines which define their formation and treatment.

The concept of stability of Latin nomenclature was lost in 2006. In that year, Daryl Frost of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and 18 of his colleagues throughout the world, produced a voluminous monograph reassessing the frog fauna on the basis of genetic studies. One of the criticisms of this work has been the limited number of species available to them for study.

As far as Australia is concerned, the genus Bufo has been split, and Bufo marinus has become Rhinella marina. Rana daemeli has become Papurana daemeli.

Other major changes proposed by Frost and his colleagues include not recognising Cyclorana and Nyctimystes as genera distinct from Litoria. For the purposes of this field guide, each can be readily distinguished from Litoria and they have been retained here. The issue is that a field guide is a utilitarian device and we need the simplest approach.

Some key parts of the frog. The measurement given in each species account is the snout to vent length.

Common or colloquial names

Long before scientists adopted a system of scientific names in Latin, frogs were given names which are now referred to as ‘common’ or ‘colloquial’. There is nothing wrong with adopting common names, provided that their use precludes the possibility of different species in the same geographic area sharing the same name.

Another problem is that some species are known by a multiplicity of common names. I am aware of species with six names, and one with eight – all in use by different people at the same time! Some people hold strong views on which one to use. A lady who reviewed the first edition of this book wrote that she would not recommend it, because I had not adopted the common name that she used for a particular species. Hopefully I will be excused for not wearing sackcloth and ashes.

As of 1 August 2019, 8047 different species are known throughout the world; Latin and common names are being created for the new ones. I tried to use the most popular common name. If I see a small toad-like species, I will follow the majority and call it a ‘toadlet’ and not a ‘gun gun’. There remains an urgent need for the creation and adoption of a national system of colloquial nomenclature.


Within Australia, frogs are transported accidentally from state to state among produce. Most commonly, tree frogs travel among bananas from Queensland to the southern states, but potted plants from nurseries are another source.

Less frequently, frogs are imported alive from overseas. We have included details of those species encountered. None has become established in Australia, but the risk remains and it is of benefit to be aware of what they look like.

From time to time, Australian frogs have been accidentally introduced elsewhere. The most well-known examples are Litoria fallax, which was established in Guam during the Vietnam War, and Litoria infrafrenata, which became established at the botanical gardens at Bogor in Indonesia in the nineteenth century. In addition, a specimen of Litoria adelaidensis reached Christmas Island in a shipment of cabbages from Myalup near Harvey in the south-east of Western Australia in 1980. More recently, Litoria dentata has been accidentally introduced into Lord Howe Island and is now established there.

Families and genera

There are six families in Australia: Hylidae, Limnodynastidae, Myobatrachidae, Microhylidae, Ranidae and Bufonidae.

Hylidae or Pelodryadidae?

The (hylid) frog fauna of Australia, Papua New Guinea, and islands from Timor to the Solomon Islands, constitutes a recognisable unit. Until recently the unit was considered a subfamily of the family Hylidae and termed the Pelodryadinae. Three other hylid subfamilies were recognised: the Hylinae of Europe, Asia, North America and South America; the Phyllomedusinae of Central and South America; and the Hemiphractinae of South America (Duellman and Trueb, 1986).

From time to time authors have preferred to consider the Australasian frogs a distinct family: the Pelodryadidae. For example, Savage (1973), citing the work of Tyler (1971) asserting that Tyler’s data on mandibular musculature precluded the possibility of the Australasian frogs being hylids, and so he resurrected the name Pelodryadidae for them.¹

Recognising the Australasian frogs as a hylid subfamily emphasises their close relationship with other subfamilies of the Hylidae. Considering them to be a distinct family reduces the interpretation of that association. It is worth noting that the Cricket Frogs of the genus Acris of North America have differentiated submandibular musculature that is identical to the Australasian frogs, in having a supplementary apical element, but their identity as hylids has not been questioned until very recently. Clearly there is at present no uniformity in the approach to defining the nomenclature of zoological units. As far as the Australian frog fauna is concerned, I continue to use the family name Hylidae.

Irrespective of the name

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