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ancient giant frog Beelsebufo ampinga
New York Times, February 19, 2008
Paleontologists Reconstruct a Monster Frog
By KENNETH CHANG
When David Krause first discovered fossil bones from a frog that
lived in Madagascar in the time of dinosaurs, he could not tell much
except that it was big. He and his co-workers called it the “frog
It took 15 years and another 75 incomplete fossils to put together
enough the pieces to place the frog in the frog family tree and give
it an official name: Beelzebufo ampinga. (That’s Latin for “armored
Dr. Krause, a professor of anatomical science at Stony Brook
University, and his colleagues describe the giant frog in this week’s
online edition of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Beelzebufo, which lived between 70 million and 65 million years ago,
might be the largest frog ever, past or present. It may also have
implications for geophysics, twisting the story of how the southern
supercontinent of Gondwana broke apart into Africa, South America and
The goliath frog of West Africa is the largest of living frogs, grows
more than a foot long, measured from snout to rear end, and can weigh
more than seven pounds. The female Beelzebufo was a 16-inch, 10-pound
behemoth. (The male was smaller.) Only another extinct frog, living
about 20 million years in South America, may have been as large.
The largest frog living on Madagascar today is just over four inches
long and would have made a nice hors d’oeuvre for Beelzebufo, Dr.
Once Dr. Krause had dug up enough bones of Beelzebufo, he enlisted
the help of Susan E. Evans and Marc E. H. Jones, two fossil frog
experts at University College London.
The geophysical twist comes from Dr. Evans’s and Dr. Jones’s
conclusions about Beelzeebufo’s genealogy. Its closest living
relatives today live not in Madagascar or even Africa but in South
America, a group known as Pac-Man frogs, because their wide mouths,
big stomachs and voracious predatory appetites draw comparison to the
1980s video game.
The female Beelzebufos were “lady Pac-Man frogs, on steroids,” Dr.
Geographically, that poses a puzzle, because Madagascar is a long way
from South America and, according to the prehistoric maps, separated
by much water. Madagascar detached from Africa 160 million years ago,
and South America separated from Africa 100 million years ago.
Further, no relatives of the Pac-Man frogs have been uncovered in
That raises the question: how did a relative of South American frogs
get halfway around the world to Madagascar?
Dr. Krause suggests an alternate route, through Antarctica, which was
at the bottom of the planet even then, but which had a much warmer
climate where animals could thrive. South America was still connected
to Antarctica as recently as 42 million years ago, but a land bridge
between Madagascar and Antarctica is speculation.
“The geophysicists have not reconstructed the world quite that way,”
Dr. Krause said. Such a connection would also explain why there are
closely related members of other groups of animals, including
dinosaurs, crocodiles and mammals, in both Madagascar and South America.
It was most likely a wait-and-lunge ambush predator like its South
American relatives and perhaps even ate some small dinosaurs.
Ultimately, the Beelzebufo went the way of the dinosaurs, dying out
at about the same time. The current frogs of Madagascar are not
closely related and must have come from somewhere else.=