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Africa’s frogs: sightings from a lowveld campus

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

About 115 species of frogs and toads can be found in South Africa. Naturally it’s quite difficult to find them all, but in this blog Bushwise student Kyla Jordan shares what she’s learned about Lowveld frogs.

4 min read

We have seen many different species of frogs around our campus. We have a resident frog that we see every day in our rooms, bathrooms and the classroom. Our most commonly seen resident frog is called the foam-nest tree frog. We have three locals in our ladies bathroom which have been sleeping in the window from the start of our course!

Three foam-nest tree frogs huddled together on a door frame. The frogs are whitish in colour with brown stripes across their faces from their eyes to their chins.

Image by Kyla Jordan

Like many frogs, foam-nest tree frogs have adapted to survive without water during the dry season (which in the Lowveld is winter). Like all amphibians, oxygen can pass through the frog’s highly permeable skin. This helps keep the frogs moist at all times. In order to survive during the dry season, frogs will enter into aestivation – a state of metabolic dormancy – which makes its skin resistant to evaporation.

I particularly like that some foam-nest tree frogs are a stone white colour which means they’re able to camouflage with the toilet seat – giving you a nice big fright if you don’t spot them early enough. The three in our bathroom sleep all huddled up together and always look like they’re smiling, which is the cutest thing ever.

Our resident frogs

A red toad sitting on the ground outside a building, almost looks a bit disturbed that someone is photographing it!

My friend Shannon and I spotted a red toad one evening along our pathway to our room. Their call sounds almost similar to the giant bullfrog. This is not a frog but a toad. Frogs and toads are two completely different things. Frogs have long legs that are longer than their heads and body, which are made for hopping. 

Toads have much shorter legs and prefer to crawl rather than hop. One easy way to tell them apart is to look at their skin – frogs have smooth, slimy skin where toads have dry, warty skin.

What can frogs tell us about an ecosystem?

A southern foam-nest frog balances on a tree branch in the afternoon light.

Frogs are considered to be an “indicator” species because they are the first to be affected by degradation of the environment. Their decreasing numbers may be a warning to us that conditions of the Earth are changing. Frogs also play an important part in the food chain as both predator and prey. Frogs control the insect population, which controls diseases such as malaria. They are also a very good food source for other animals. 

Another cool thing about frogs is that some frogs use aposematic coloration (aka warning colours) to alert predators that they are foul tasting or poisonous. This protects them against predators. 

What sounds do frogs make?

A bubbling kassina at night. This frog makes quite a unique sound, like a bubbling book, appropriate for its name. 

Frogs also have a variety of different calls. They have release calls, aggressive calls, satellite behaviour calls, time sharing calls and distress calls. 

Frogs give a release call when the male accidently clasps the wrong species or a female will use this call if she is not ready to mate. Aggressive calls are used in combat fighting. 

Another interesting sound is used in satellite behaviour. Satellite behaviour is when a sexually matured male calls for a mate but a silent male sits nearby. The female approaches the calling male but the silent male intercepts and clasps her. 

A mating pair of ornate frogs in shallow water. Ornate frogs have beautiful green, brown, and white mottled colouration.

If you hear frogs call in a song-like rhythm, this is the males calling and it’s a behaviour known as time-sharing. This allows them to actively spread out so that females can listen to the different calling males and know where to go. So the next time you hear frogs calling you know there is a reason for each different call. 

The frogs I’m looking forward to seeing

We have not yet seen many frogs because of the dry season. But there are tons of species to be found here in the Lowveld. We can expect to see these species here around campus:

  1. Banded rubber frog

  2. African bullfrog

  3. Giant bullfrog

  4. Painted reed frog

  5. Bushveld rain frog

  6. Common river frog

  7. Broad banded tree frog

  8. Bubbling Kassina

  9. Plain river frog

  10. Mottled shovel nosed frog

  11. Brown backed tree frog 

All these species are likely to start showing up in the rainy season, which would be in summer, and that is just around the corner!

Frogs play an important role in the ecosystem and they are such interesting animals to study. Are you interested in frogs like Kyla? Apply to join a Bushwise course and soon you could be learning about animals in their natural habitat!

Words by Kyla Jordan, photos by Callum Evans unless captioned otherwise.

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