Itatiaia highland frog (Holoaden bradei)

GenusHoloaden (1)
SizeSnout-vent length: up to 3.7 cm (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Restricted to just one small area of the Itatiaia Mountains in south-eastern Brazil (1) (2) (3), the Itatiaia highland frog has not been recorded in the wild for many years, and may already have become extinct (1). A small frog with a fairly robust build, it has an oval body, a large, wide head, rounded snout, and short limbs with short, unwebbed digits that end in narrow discs. The eyes are large and directed forwards, with diamond-shaped pupils (2) (4). The body is light olive-brown above, with irregular dark patches, and uniformly cream beneath, while the tips of the digits are bright yellow (2) (5), helping to distinguish this species from its relative Holoaden luederwaldti, which is larger and more uniformly brownish-black (2). Like all members of the genus, the Itatiaia highland frog has very glandular skin and large parotoid glands (2) (4). As in Holoaden luederwaldti, the female may potentially be larger than the male (6).

The Itatiaia highland frog, as its name suggests, is found only in the highlands of the Itatiaia Mountains, in south-eastern Brazil, occurring at elevations of around 2,100 to 2,600 metres (1) (2) (3).

This species lives on the ground in open grassland or sparse forest, where it has been found under mulch, leaves and stones, as well as in burrows and inside terrestrial bromeliads (1) (2).

Little information is available on the biology of this species, but it is believed to breed by ‘direct development’, laying eggs which hatch directly into miniature versions of the adults rather than going through a larval stage (1) (2). The eggs are laid on the ground, under mulch or leaves (1) (2), and one of the adults may guard the clutch. If disturbed, the adult may raise itself on its forelimbs and hiss in an attempt to deter potential predators (2).

This small frog was previously described as being very abundant at the site from which it was first described (2), and was frequently found up until the 1970s (1). However, it has now not been seen in the wild for more than ten years, despite extensive searches, leading to fears that it may already have become extinct (1). The species has not been recorded outside of one small area of less than ten square kilometres, and is believed to have declined due to a reduction in the extent and quality of its habitat, as a result of touristic activities and fire. The species is also reported to be affected by extreme frosts (1). It is not known to what extent the Itatiaia highland frog may also have been impacted by factors such as climate change, disease and pollution, which are presenting great threats to amphibian species worldwide (7).

The range of the Itatiaia highland frog lies within the Parque Nacional do Itatiaia (1), and the species has been listed as Critically Endangered in Brazil (8). Extensive surveys are needed to determine whether this rare amphibian still survives in the wild, and, if it is found, urgent conservation measures will be needed to save the remaining individuals, including a conservation management plan and the continued conservation and preservation of its habitat (1).

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  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Lutz, B. (1958) Anfíbios novos e raros das Serras Costeiras do Brasil. Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, 56(2): 373-399.
  3. Frost, D.R. (2009) Amphibian Species of the World: An Online Reference. American Museum of Natural History, New York. Available at:
  4. Pombal Jr, J.P., Siqueira, C.C., Dorigo, T.A., Vrcibradic, D. and Rocha, C.F.D. (2008) A third species of the rare frog genus Holoaden (Terrarana, Strabomantidae) from a montane rainforest area of southeastern Brazil. Zootaxa, 1938: 61-68.
  5. Caramaschi, U. and Pombal Jr, J.P. (2006) Notas sobre as séries-tipo de Holoaden bradei B. Lutz e Holoaden luederwaldti Miranda-Ribeiro (Anura, Brachycephalidae). Revista Brasileira de Zoologia, 23(4): 1261-1263.
  6. Martins, I.A. (2010) Natural history of Holoaden luederwaldti (Amphibia: Strabomantidae: Holoadeninae) in southeastern of Brazil. Zoologia, 27(1): 40-46.
  7. 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:
  8. Ministério do Meio Ambiente. (2003) Lista das Espécies da Fauna Brasileira Ameaçadas de Extinção. IBAMA, Brasil.