What do they look like?
Most burrowing frogs have a broad rounded body and large eyes. Some of the larger burrowing frogs are sometimes confused with cane toads but they are easy to tell apart if you look into their eyes. Burrowing frogs have vertical pupils, the cane toad has horizontal pupils.
Where are they found?
Around a third of Australian frog species will burrow into the ground for part of the year. True burrowing frogs are found across Australia many in dry or arid regions of inland Australia.
- Burrowing frogs spend dry times lying in wait up to a metre deep under the soil. They can stay there for years until a good soaking of rain softens the ground enough for them to move to the surface to breed.
- Around a third of Australian frog species will burrow into the ground for part of the year.
Burrowing Frogs – the full story
Burrowing frogs spend dry times lying in wait up to a metre deep under the soil. They can stay there for years until a good soaking of rain softens the ground enough for them to move to the surface to breed.
If it has been wet, then it has been a good year for burrowing frogs. Heavy rains can cover vast areas of inland Australia with temporary lakes. This creates ideal breeding conditions for burrowing frogs.
Around a third of Australian frog species will burrow into the ground for part of the year.
Some burrowers, such as the Eastern Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes dumerilii) or the Western Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes dorsalis) dig a shallow burrow a few centimetres deep in leaf litter which merely serves as a night-time and cold weather retreat, not a permanent abode.
The true burrowing frogs are superb drought-dodgers, digging deep down into the soil and remaining there for months or even years as the soil bakes solid in the summer sun.
Many of these frogs can store up to 50% of their body weight as water in their bladders. This keeps them supplied with moisture during those months or years underground.
Burrowing frogs back legs are equipped with “shovels” which they use to dig themselves backwards down into the ground. Before they go to sleep, they form a cocoon of dead skin cells around their bodies to limit water loss.
Some of the better known burrowing frogs are:
Ornate Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum ornatum): Found in northern Australia from WA through to QLD and along the eastern coast to northern NSW. Colours can range from yellow through to grey or dark brown with brown patches or spots along its back.
Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus): Found in small pockets of southern coastal New South Wales and Victoria. Is a large frog growing up to 10cm with very dark brown to black skin and bright yellow spots down its side.
Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri): Found only in arid central areas. It grows to 5cm in length and can range from grey in colour through to reddish brown with darker brown patches across its back.
Painted Burrowing Frog (Neobatrachus pictus): Is widespread in south-eastern South Australia and western Victoria but endangered in New South Wales. It is a light yellowy-white colour with darker brown patterns across its back.
Striped Burrowing Frog (Cyclorana alboguttata): Found throughout Queensland and northern New South Wales. It can grow up to 8.5cm long, is brown to olive green and has a prominent stripe down its back.
Did you know?
Some burrowing frogs live their entire life underground. The Round Frog and Turtle Frog from Western Australia live almost permanently below ground and feed on termites.
Sometimes an innocent excavation of the garden veggie patch can have surprising results. You may accidentally dig up a burrowing frog, deep in slumber. If so, it can be put back gently where it was and covered up again. It will wake of its own accord in the next big rains.