Ethiopian short-headed frog (Balebreviceps hillmani)

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Male Ethiopian short-headed frog
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Ethiopian short-headed frog fact file

Ethiopian short-headed frog description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAmphibia
OrderAnura
FamilyMicrohylidae
GenusBalebreviceps (1)

Described as both a new species and an entirely new genus as recently as 1989 (3), the Ethiopian short-headed frog is a moderately sized, rather robust amphibian with a striking pattern of yellow and blackish-brown bands running along the back. The feet of this species are conspicuously broad, with unwebbed digits and a much reduced fifth toe, which is situated high on the side of the fourth. Intriguingly, the Ethiopian short-headed frog is widely separated geographically from its nearest relatives, species of Probreviceps and Breviceps, and show characteristics somewhat intermediate between the two (2) (3).

Size
Snout-vent length: up to 5.3 cm (2)
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Ethiopian short-headed frog biology

Little is currently known about the biology and life history of the Ethiopian short-headed frog. However, it is likely to live on the ground (3), and all specimens have so far been collected during the day from beneath logs and boulders (1). This species is suspected to build a terrestrial nest in which to lay the eggs, which may undergo ‘direct development’, hatching into miniature versions of the adults rather than undergoing an aquatic larval stage (1). The striking colouration of the Ethiopian short-headed frog is likely to serve as a warning to predators that it is unpalatable (2) (3).

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Ethiopian short-headed frog range

The Ethiopian short-headed frog is endemic to the Bale Mountains, east of the Rift Valley in Ethiopia, where it is known from just a single site at an elevation of 3,200 metres (1) (2) (3) (4).

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Ethiopian short-headed frog habitat

This species has been recorded from giant heath (Erica arborea) woodland, just below the treeline (1) (2) (4).

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Ethiopian short-headed frog status

The Ethiopian short-headed frog is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered

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Ethiopian short-headed frog threats

Although reported to be fairly numerous at the site from which it was first recorded in 1986, the Ethiopian short-headed frog is thought to be restricted to a relatively small area, and its habitat may be declining (1). The increasing human population in the Ethiopian Highlands is putting pressure on the land through agricultural development and overgrazing (2) (5), and although direct damage to the narrow belt of giant heath occupied by this frog is not thought likely in the near future, any such damage would pose a significant threat to the species (1). Indirect effects of the logging of adjoining forests at slightly lower elevations may also threaten the Ethiopian short-headed frog (1), while other factors such as climate change and disease may present future problems (6).

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Ethiopian short-headed frog conservation

The Ethiopian short-headed frog occurs within the Bale Mountains National Park, although this area has yet to be officially gazetted (1) (2) (5). Conservation priorities for this unique and little-known amphibian include the protection of Erica heath and woodland, and further survey work to better understand the species’ ecology, status and distribution (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on amphibian conservation see:

To find out more about conservation in the Ethiopian Highlands see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Larval
Of the stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2013)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Largen, M.J. (2001) Catalogue of the amphibians of Ethiopia, including a key for their identification. Tropical Zoology, 14: 307-402.
  3. Largen, M.J. and Drewes, R.C. (1989) A new genus and species of brevicipitine frog (Amphibia, Anura, Microhylidae) from high altitude in the mountains of Ethiopia. Tropical Zoology, 2(1): 13-30.
  4. Frost, D.R. (2009) Amphibian Species of the World: An Online Reference. American Museum of Natural History, New York. Available at:
    http://research.amnh.org/vz/herpetology/amphibia/
  5. Conservation International: Biodiversity Hotspots - Eastern Afromontane (April, 2010)
    http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org/xp/Hotspots/afromontane/Pages/default.aspx
  6. Gascon, C., Collins, J.P. Moore, R.D., Church, D.R., McKay, J.E. and Mendelson III, J.R. (2007) Amphibian Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://www.amphibians.org/ASG/Publications_files/ACAP.pdf
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Image credit

Male Ethiopian short-headed frog  
Male Ethiopian short-headed frog

© M.J. Largen

Malcolm Largen
Ptychadena@aol.com

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