Sunset frog (Spicospina flammocaerulea)

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Sunset frog, anterior view
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Sunset frog fact file

Sunset frog description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAmphibia
OrderAnura
FamilyMyobatrachidae
GenusSpicospina (1)

The sunset frog (Spicospina flammocaerulea) was first discovered in Western Australia as recently as 1994 and was scientifically described in 1997. It is so called because of its striking appearance; it is dark purplish-black above, with bright orange and blue on its belly, reminiscent of the colours at sunset (3). This small frog produces a deep ‘dadukk dadukk’ croak (3). The sunset frog is the only member of the genus Spicospina, and differs greatly from other Australian frogs in colour (orange and blue ventral surface) and appearance (massive glands behind the head) (4).

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Sunset frog biology

Relatively little is known about the ecology of the sunset frog. The breeding season occurs from October to January, when males call from water seepages or in large water-filled hollows and shallow pools (3). Females lay an average of 81 eggs singly; these are often supported on algal mats just below the surface of the water. The tadpoles are free-swimming but may be benthic specialists (7).

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Sunset frog range

When the sunset frog was first discovered, it was only known from three sites in south-west Western Australia. Since then, surveys have brought the total number of likely populations to 27, all of which are located near the southern coast of Western Australia. The range of this frog is highly fragmented and it occupies a very restricted area. There is at present a lack of data on the absolute size of known populations (5).

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Sunset frog habitat

The sunset frog occupies a very specialised habitat. It is found in permanently moist peat swamps which may be relics of an earlier wet landscape with summer rainfall patterns  that changed to a seasonally dry summer climate around 10-12 million years ago. The remaining peat bogs in which this frog lives are kept moist throughout the year, often as a result of seepages of water. Within the bogs, sunset frogs are typically found in the water seepages, in pools and along drainage lines. Modern peat swamps may represent the closest approximation available to Miocene summer wet climates (6).

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Sunset frog status

The sunset frog is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Schedule 1 of the Western Australia Wildlife Conservation Act (2).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Sunset frog threats

The very restricted and highly fragmented geographic range of the sunset frog makes it extremely vulnerable to chance events, such as disease or freak weather. However, reports that fires caused a decline in the population size at one site (8) were not substantiated when this site was burnt again in the summer of 2002 and 2003 and frogs bred after the fire (6). Indeed, although wildfire can ignite peat in peat swamps there is also evidence of populations persisting for long periods post fire and that fire can induce breeding activity (9). Further threats to sunset frogs may include introduced feral pigs, which may damage breeding habitat, and inappropriate land management, such as over-grazing, killing vegetation, or inappropriate fire regimes (3) (6). Outbreaks of dieback fungus, Phytophthora cinnamomi, could also pose a significant threat to the species (6). The fact that the populations are so fragmented could result in genetic problems due to inbreeding (3), but there are no reliable data on population size or connectedness (6).

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Sunset frog conservation

The sunset frog is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because of its highly restricted range. With regards to the conservation of this species, perhaps the most pressing requirement at present is to increase knowledge of its distribution and the threats facing it, allowing accurate estimates of population size and in effective conservation measures to be devised. Research and monitoring to this end is on-going. In addition, many of the sites supporting sunset frogs are situated within national parks, or state forest so the species receives a high level of protection in over two thirds of its known range (8).

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Find out more

For more information on the sunset frog see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (28/11/2005) by Dale Roberts, Associate Professor and Head of School, School of Animal Biology, University of Western Australia.
http://www.animals.uwa.edu.au

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Glossary

Benthic
Living in or on the bottom of a body of water.
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.
Miocene
Of or belonging to the geologic time from about 24 to 5 million years ago.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (March, 2004)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. Australian Government – Department of the Environment and Heritage: National Threatened Frog Workshop – Abstracts (March, 2004)
    http://www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/information/frog-workshop.html
  3. Threatened frogs of Western Australia (March, 2004)
    http://www.westernwildlife.com.au/frogs/endang.htm
  4. Roberts, J.D., Horwitz, P., Wardell-Johnson, G., Maxson, L.R. and Mahony, M.J. (1997) Taxonomy, relationships and conservation of a new genus and species of myobatrachid frog from the high rainfall region of southwestern Australia. Copeia, 1997(2): 373 - 381.
  5. Burbidge, A.A. and Roberts, J.D. (2002) Sunset Frog Recovery Plan. Wildlife Management Program (Department of Conservation and Land Management, Perth), 35: 0 - 0.
  6. Roberts, D. (2005) Pers. comm.
  7. Dziminski, M.A. and Anstis, M. (2004) Embryonic and larval development of the sunset frog Spicospina flammocaerulea (Anura: Myobatrachidae), from southwestern Australia. Copeia, 2004(4): 896 - 902.
  8. Roberts, J.D., Conroy, S. and Williams, K. (1999) Conservation status of frogs in Western Australia. In: Campbell, A. (Ed) Declines and Disappearances of Australian Frogs. Environment Australia, Canberra.
  9. Bamford, M.J. and Roberts, J.D. (2003) The impact of fire on frogs and reptiles in south-western Australia. In: Abbott, I. and Burrows, N. (Eds) Fire in ecosystems of south-west Western Australia: impacts and management. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, The Netherlands.
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Image credit

Sunset frog, anterior view  
Sunset frog, anterior view

© Greg Harold / Auscape International

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