Table Mountain ghost frog (Heleophryne rosei)
|Also known as:||Ghost frog, Rose’s ghost frog, Rose’s torrent frog, Skeleton Gorge ghost frog, thumbed ghost frog|
|Size||Female snout-vent length: 60 mm (2)|
Male snout-vent length: 50 mm (2)
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Rare and elusive, the Table Mountain ghost frog is restricted to the slopes of Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain (1) (2). It is a tiny frog with a squat, compressed body that enables it to hide in small crevices. Adults have a mottled pigmentation consisting of a green background, speckled with patches of purple to reddish-brown. The hindlimbs are fully webbed, making this species a strong swimmer, while spatulate toes provide a firm grip on rocky substrates. During the breeding season, males develop folds of loose skin that increase their oxygen uptake in the water, and both sexes develop spiny structures on their bodies that allow for better contact during amplexus (the mating embrace). The tadpoles are equipped with sucker-like mouthparts that are not only used for algal feeding, but also for securing a firm grip on rocks in fast flowing streams (2) (3).
The Table Mountain ghost frog is restricted to an area of no more than eight square kilometres on the southern and eastern slopes of Table Mountain in the Western Cape, South Africa (1) (2).
This species inhabits wooded valleys and fynbos heathland, where it typically occurs in clear, swift-flowing perennial streams (1) (2). Non-breeding adults have been recorded away from the streams, travelling over open land, and in caves (1) (2).
Owing to its rarity, relatively little is known about the natural history of the Table Mountain ghost frog. Breeding occurs in the dry spring and summer months, when stream flow is at its lowest, presumably to ensure the eggs will not be laid in a stream that will eventually dry up later in the year. The tadpoles take around 12 months to complete metamorphosis, making the year round supply of water absolutely essential. The behaviour of adults is poorly documented, but they are known to stray from streams and travel across land during the non-breeding season (2) (3).
Despite occurring within protected land, the Table Mountain ghost frog is still subject to a number of threats, each with the potential to have a devastating impact given this species’ narrow range. The spread of alien vegetation, and in particular the planting of exotic pines, gums and poplars, has resulted in the clogging of streams, creating areas of stagnant water, unsuitable for the Table Mountain ghost frog. Consequently, even within its restricted range, it has become locally extinct along certain stretches. Other potential threats include the construction of dams which reduce water flow, frequent fires, global climate change, and intensive eco-tourism, while in recent years the deadly fungal disease chytridiomycosis has been found in some populations of this Critically Endangered species (1) (2) (3).
The whole of the Table Mountain ghost frog’s range is incorporated within the Table Mountain National Park, itself a part of the Cape Floristic World Heritage Site (1) (4). Given this species imperilled conservation status, Western Cape Nature Conservation also has a monitoring programme in place (1). One of the main conservation priorities is to ensure the preservation of swift-flowing perennial mountain streams on Table Mountain. Furthermore, with the looming threat of further cases of chytridiomycosis spreading through the population, the establishment of a captive population may prove vital to this species survival (2) (3).
To find out more about the conservation of amphibians see:
IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group:
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:
To learn about efforts to conserve the table mountain ghost frog see:
EDGE of Existence:
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- Fynbos: the natural shrubland vegetation occurring in the southwestern and southern Cape of South Africa, holding the greatest diversity of plant species in the world. Fynbos is characterised by tall shrubs with large leaves, heath-like shrubs, wiry reed-like plants, and bulbous herbs.
IUCN Red List (February, 2010)
Amphibia Web (February, 2010)
Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) (February, 2010)
World Heritage Centre, UNESCO (February, 2010)