Painted burrowing frog (Scaphiophryne gottlebei)

Also known as: Gottlebe’s narrow-mouthed frog, rainbow burrowing frog
GenusScaphiophryne (1)
SizeMale length: 20 – 30 mm (2)
Female length: 30 – 40 mm (2)

The painted burrowing frog is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

One of the most highly decorated of the Madagascan frogs, the painted burrowing frog (Scaphiophryne gottlebei) is a small, roundish, brightly coloured species with a distinctive white, red, green and black pattern on the back. The skin of the back is very smooth, but the skin of the grey belly is a little bit rough. The ears are inconspicuous, but the eyes are prominent. Adapted for both the underground and climbing lifestyles, the painted burrowing frog has horny tubercles on the underside of the hind feet to help with burrowing, and claws on the forefeet for clinging to vertical canyon walls (2). The tadpoles are very conspicuous, quite big, and blackish.

The painted burrowing frog is found at elevations of over 900 metres in the Isalo Massif, either within the national park of the same name, or in external areas (1).

Inhabits open, rocky areas of dry forest, as well as hiding amongst stone crevices in canyons. The painted burrowing frog breeds in shallow, temporary pools within the canyons, although sometimes could be found in open areas (1).

With adaptations for two apparently distinct lifestyles, the painted burrowing frog is known mainly for its underground lifestyle, and is thought to climb only to escape drowning in flash floodwater by finding small holes to rest in within the canyon walls of its habitat. Despite its webbed hind feet, the painted burrowing frog is a poor swimmer.

The tadpoles hatch in temporary rock pools and are thought to undergo metamorphosis relatively quickly since they must avoid being washed away by sudden heavy rains (2). Tadpoles feed upon the detritus they found in the sand of the small pools where they live. During the night they become very active, and occupy the whole water column (5). Adults consume insects (4).

Thousands of painted burrowing frogs are captured for the pet trade each year, and although the species is considered to be endangered, this is mainly as a result of its small range. It is locally abundant and has a high reproductive rate, most likely allowing fast recovery from minor reductions in population numbers. Sapphire mining operations near to the habitat of the painted burrowing frog are considered to be a threat to populations, and further potential threats include increasing tourist activity, and habitat loss from fire, wood extraction and over-grazing by livestock (1).

Several populations of the painted burrowing frog occur in the Isalo National Park where the habitat is protected, but habitat loss elsewhere is likely and potentially dangerous to the remaining unprotected populations (1). Carefully regulated trade with a capture quota will prevent further decline of this spectacular species (1).

For further information on the painted burrowing conservation:

Find out more about painted burrowing frog conservation projects:

Authenticated (07/02/2005) by Franco Andreone, Chair of DAPT/IUCN Madagascar.

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. AmphibiaWeb (September, 2010)
  3. CITES (December, 2004)
  4. Andreone, F. (2005) Pers. comm.
  5. Madagascan Burrowing Frogs FAQ (December, 2004)