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4/18/21

Horned Marsupial Frog

The Horned Marsupial Frog (Gastrotheca cornuta) is a frog found in the canopy of forests in central and eastern Panama, western Ecuador, Costa Rica and the Pacific lowlands of Colombia. They mostly hang out at night, near rivers and creeks. Horned Marsupial Frogs have the largest eyes of any amphibian and triangular peaked eyelids that look like horns, giving them their name. Males call through the trees with a ‘bop’ sound every eight to twelve minutes.

Interestingly, Horned Marsupial Frogs breed by direct development, with fertilization occurring externally. Females release eggs, which are fertilized and deposited into a pouch on a females back. Similar to a kangaroo, the female will then carry the eggs in this pouch to the froglet stage, completely skipping the tadpole step! This process takes 60-80 days. Horned Marsupial frogs have the largest of all known amphibian eggs.

Horned Marsupial Frogs are listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are mostly endangered, like many amphibians, because of a disease. Chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, has threatened amphibians across the globe. This disease, combined with habitat loss, urbanization, pollution and deforestation for logging and agriculture, has severely declined Horned Marsupial populations. Because of this, they are no longer found in Costa Rica and western Panama, and they were thought to be gone from Ecuador too.

Amazingly, Horned Marsupial Frogs were re-sighted in 2018 on Fundación Jocotoco’s Canandé Reserve in western Ecuador! Biologists spotted the frog just outside the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve when they heard an unusual frog call, they found enough individuals to suggest a stable population in this rare healthy forest. While this is good news for the species, they will need extensive conservation help to survive the threats they are facing.

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Image courtesy of Sebastian Di Domenico, Tropical Herping

Ecuador is home to 589 amphibian species and counting, 45% of which are endemic. Unfortunately, these species are threatened by the highest rate of deforestation in South America. 2-3% of forest is lost per year. Industries of palm oil, cacao, banana, mining, and drilling are also expanding into forests.

Ecuador has a robust reserve system protecting 20% of it’s land, but some enforcement can be lax and logging continues inside boundaries. Some organizations are buying land area around reserves, replanting, and bringing in ecotourism for funding. You can help by donating to organizations like Foundation Jocotoco so they can buy acres. Of course, it is also important to involve local communities in protecting the species around them.

The Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena region (Chocó), the area of Ecuador (stretching into Colombia, Panama and Peru) with the most pristine lowland rainforests, is extremely biodiverse and homes threatened animals from Horned Marsupial Frogs to Jaguars. It is almost as biodiverse as the Amazon. It is disappearing quickly, so we must help protect this amazing area and all the animals in it. You can help by donating and supporting efforts to protect the Chocó.

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Image courtesy of Sebastian Di Domenico, Tropical Herping

Image courtesy of Brad Wilson.

Image courtesy of Frank Pichardo, Tropical Herping

The Chocó region, Image courtesy of Lucas Bustemante, Tropical Herping

Further Resources

Foundation Jocotoco:

Works Cited

Domenico, P., & Bustamante, P. (2018, December 12). Once thought extinct, bizarre horned frog reappears in Ecuador. Retrieved November 10, 2020, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/12/lost-marsupial-frog-rediscovered-ecuador-choco-forest/

Farrows. (2020, September 29). Horned Marsupial Frog. Retrieved November 10, 2020, from https://www.worldlandtrust.org/species/amphibians/horned-marsupial-frog/

Horned marsupial frog. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2020, from http://www.sfzoo.org/animals/sculptures/horned-marsupial-frog.html

Cover image courtesy of Brad Wilson.