Image: A devil frog

A devil frog compared to a pencil and the largest known living Madagascan frog, Mantydactylus ampinga.

Illustration by Luci Betti-Nash, courtesy Stony Brook University

Fast Facts

Type:
Prehistoric
Diet:
Carnivore
Size:
16 in (41 cm)
Weight:
10 lbs (4.5 kg)
Protection status:
Extinct
Did you know?
Ceratophyrines, living descendants of the devil frog, are sometimes called "Pac-Man frogs," because their round shape and oversized mouth resembles the old video game character.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Devil frog compared with adult man

Beelzebufo ampinga, the so-called "devil frog," may be the largest frog that ever lived. These beach-ball-size amphibians, now extinct, grew to 16 inches (41 centimeters) in length and weighed about 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms). They inhabited the island of Madagascar during the Late Cretaceous, about 65 to 70 million years ago.

These largely terrestrial frogs may have been as ill-tempered and aggressive as their living relatives, the ceratophyrines of South America, scientists say. Ceratophyrines are nasty sit-and-wait predators that are eager to snap at just about anything that happens by, experts note. The ancient devil frogs may have snatched lizards, small vertebrates, and possibly even hatchling dinosaurs with their huge mouths and powerful jaws.

Scientists announced Beelzebufo in February 2008 more than a decade after the first bits of fossilized remains from the species were found. Its name is derived from Beelzebub, Greek for "devil," and bufo, Latin for toad. Ampinga means "armored," describing the prominent cranial shield the species had on its head.

The presence of Beelzebufo on Madagascar poses an important question for biogeographers: How is it that the modern relatives of this gigantic frog are only found halfway around the world in South America?

Most scientists think Madagascar separated from Africa about 160 million years ago during the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, then broke free from India and became an isolated island some 88 million years ago. But Beelzebufo and other Madagascan fossils with South American characteristics suggests a land connection between South America, Madagascar, and possibly Antarctica may have existed as late as 65 to 70 million years ago.

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