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Australia's Waterfall Frogs

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Dr Arthur White looks at the unusual waterfall frogs who have one of the most bizarre habitats of all Australian frogs.     
They have chosen to live in the torrents of water that comprise waterfalls and are only found in the wet tropics. Some 3-5 centimetres in size and dappled in colour, they match perfectly the colour of the wet rocks that they cling to during the day.

Not that they are easily spotted since anyone looking for them would have to stick their head directly through the cascade to find them.
Their bizarre habitat means that probably, they have no predators (who is going to brave a rushing torrent for a meal?), making the waterfalls safe havens.

They do, however, have to supplement their gripping power in order to remain on the wet, slippery rocks at the base and the walls of these waterfalls. They have discs, as do tree frogs, that help each finger and toe to adhere to a rock surface. In addition, they also have an adhesive chest area which they position by pulling their bodies in hard against the rock wall, essentially making a suction surface with that area of their bodies.

Such a habitat does have its downsides. Calling to attract females is not an option for male waterfall frogs, nor is the use of vibrations, both of which are rendered useless in such a high noise and movement area. Reproduction does, however, take place but there is not enough known to make any reliable conclusions.
The eggs are stuck to the base of rocks typically at the bottom of the waterfall where the water runs more slowly.

The tadpoles that hatch have enormous suction discs on their undersides. They look like all suction discs with hardly any tail, something that is not needed as much as they mostly suction-crawl around the rocks to feed.

There are two species in Far North Queensland.
One, the Armoured mist frog was thought to have disappeared in 1991 but was rediscovered in 2008. Its larger cousin, simply known as the waterfall frog, is still in good shape.
Finding these frogs is no mean feat, given what researchers must do to locate them without even the aid of any sound clues.

Text Victor Barry

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