Ventriloquial Frog

The Ventriloquial Frog

The Breviceps family of frogs (commonly known as Rain Frogs) must hold the award for the grumpiest looking frogs in the country. There are 14 species that are endemic to southern Africa and many are difficult to separate from one another unless you know their calls and look at their distribution maps. They all have chubby, small rounded bodies and flattened faces that, according to at least one reference book, makes them look like little balloons. When disturbed they inflate their bodies adding to the balloon-like appearance.

One species, the Bushveld Rain Frog (Breviceps adspersus) is very common where we live in South Africa’s Lowveld region and is often the first frog to start calling after the arrival of the summer rains. As we have now discovered, there is another species, the Northern Forest Rain Frog (Breviceps sylvestris) that only occurs in the Afromontane forests in Limpopo Province; one such area being the Mariepskop forest reserve on the northern Drakensberg Mountains that tower over our home town of Hoedspruit. We only found this out after an outing to the reserve where we had planned to record a soundscape in the forest.

Soundclips of the South Africa Rain Frog

Much darker in colour than its lowveld relative, the Northern Forest Rain Frog, (so we are told) has a down-turned mouth that gives it a clown-like appearance, but we are yet to see one in the wild. It was our recording activities that brought this tiny creature (only 50mm in size) to our attention. Throughout the morning we regularly picked up a loud, rather penetrating, chirp in the headphones, and it always seemed to be coming from fairly high up in the surrounding trees. It must be a bird (we thought), but which species? Unlike the many birds we saw and recorded, it always remained in one spot.

Back home we posted the call on social media and immediately heard from two good friends who put us out of our misery. Both confirmed that it is very difficult to pinpoint this family of frogs when calling because of their habit of ‘megaphone’ calling while hidden away in the leaf litter or from an elevated spot on a rock and clump of vegetation and ‘throwing’ the sound up into the tree line. Listen to the call of the Northern Forest Rain Frog and compare it with its close relative the Bushveld Rain Frog.

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