Wet and Wild: Frogs of the Kimberley
Video | Updated 4 weeks ago
Presented by Dr Paul Doughty, Curator of Herpetology, Western Australian Museum.
Part of the WA Museum’s 2014 In the Wild West Lecture Series
The Kimberley region of Western Australia receives summer rains during its 'wet season'. Given the many environments of the region, from savannah plains to rugged sandstone outcrops, this has resulted in a great diversity of frog species, resulting in the most frog-rich area of the state. The main types of frogs in the area are the conspicuous tree frogs, several species of rockhole frogs, burrowing frogs, sedge frogs and an especially rich group of ground-dwelling species.
Join Dr Paul Doughty as he presents a 'who's who' of these species, and highlights recent discoveries with more species to be described.
Rangelands Natural Resource Management is the Presenting Partner of the 2014 In the Wild West series.
Paul Doughty: All right. Well, this is the stage of the story – the stories – tonight. So this is the Kimberley region. So it's part of the Australian Monsoonal Tropics or the 'AMT' for the people in the biz, which includes the Kimberley, the Top End and a bit of Cape York and the Wet Tropics as well, although the Kimberley and the Top End are most similar because when you get over to Cape York you've got all those Eastern Dividing Range species mixing in with that. So, most of the Australian Monsoonal Tropics to me is Top End and Kimberley.
So … because it's monsoonal and it's a less-developed region of Australia, there's no real roads, no sealed roads. [Addresses screen] So you have a … (let me see if I've got my laser … oh yeah). So you've got Broome here and you've got a sealed road that sort of runs around these Barrier Ranges here. This is the King Leopold's [Ranges] somewhere here and the Durack's there. So … my understanding is once upon a time when Australia was north of the equator some millions and – a long time ago anyway – it smashed into some other continent and then went down south and this was the little souvenir from that encounter, and that's why you have these Barrier Ranges here which actually affects the biogeography of the Kimberley region.
So, yeah … getting back to the roads, so you've got a sealed road here that goes really around the Kimberley properly – the proper Kimberley – and that's it. So there's no sealed roads through any of this which makes it a nice sort of special, secret place almost.
[Addresses screen] All right, so the environments of the Kimberley … this is just a snapshot. So most people when they think of the Kimberley, they think of lovely waterfalls like this … and I might look at those and go ‘Hmmm, that's interesting’ kind of, but I'll be more interested in this stuff here: the rocky creeks or maybe some Pandanus swamps down the bottom, or this [referring to a photo of a ditch by a road] is a lot more attractive than the waterfall for a frogger because there'll be frogs in it. And this is a sealed road. This is just outside of Kununurra and a lot of the research I've done has been in ditches like this, because you can get to them. The frogs don't discriminate. They are happy to breed in there. Then you can have places like this with a bit of sandstone. There's a lot of sandstone in the Kimberley. There'd be frogs all over this and some nice boabs too. So I'll be touching on some of these environments as we go through the talk.
[Addresses screen] All right, now first I'm going to start out with the Hylids because these are the things that you're … if you go the Kimberley you're most likely to encounter. So they'll definitely be in your caravan park and if it's the right time of year they'll be making a bit of noise as well. We do have some sound. It's going to be a little bit tricky, but I'll give it a try. [Plays audio] That's just – that's the Green Tree Frog there. It's supposed to sound like – and when people try to describe these it's like barking dogs, troop of baboons or something – and even in the daytime if they're not sort of doing that … if you get a shower, afternoon shower in the daytime, they will give a little sort of a group cheer and you'll go ‘Oh, they're all around the house. They're all around us.’ So that's the Green Tree Frog. It's a very chilled out frog. It's one that you can just – if you see one out at night, you can just pick it up and they'll just – they might be a little concerned, but often they're just happy to sit on your hand … very relaxed animals.
Now, the Laughing Tree Frog, let's have a listen to his laugh. [Plays audio] So it's kind of funny? It’s not that funny. It's more of a trill. The Laughing Frog name comes from more of the Queensland population which turns out is the real Laughing Frog and probably the Top End-Kimberley one, it's a new species we’re working on, not that different. So that guy is also – yeah, a climber. You'll find him around. These guys are also known for sunbaking a bit too and I've seen them out in the sun, full – you know – 40 plus degrees sun. So they must be digesting or have some special abilities there, but they're not shy of sunbaking.
Then you have a Little Red Tree Frog. [Plays audio] I kind of call this one the 'seagull frog'. It sounds like a bunch of seagulls. This guy is all over Australia, including the Arid Zone, Flinders, the Eastern seaboard and there's probably something like five or six species in it. That's another project on my 'to-do' list but it's the real Litoria rubella, 'rubella' meaning red. That's another common climbing guy.
Let me just try to get this better. Here we go. Right, where am I? There. (Too many buttons).
[Addresses screen] Okay, now this guy is sort of the big brother of the more common Green Tree Frog. So the Green Tree Frog goes from Broome to about Sydney. You know … it goes all through that sort of Monsoonal Tropics, all the way down the Eastern seaboard. This guy has the same distribution about as the boabs. So it's mostly the Kimberley with a bit of spillage into the NT. Now this guy, you'll see him a lot more around rocks than the Green Tree Frogs, so you won't see this one in the middle of a forest. There's usually rocks associated with him and he's got that sort of funky gland on his head. So that's a weird sort of – you know – defence thing. All frogs are a little bit toxic, you know. Don't stick your finger in your eye or your nose or your mouth after you handle one because they all have a little bit of nasties on them, and this guy probably a little bit more than the tree dwellers. Now, I'll probably skip his call, although not too many people have heard it. Do you want to hear it? Where is he? [Plays audio] Pretty hypnotic.
[Addresses screen] Okay. Now, just like the Splendid or Magnificent Tree Frogs that are Kimberley endemic, this guy, the Cave Frog – Litoria cavernicola – he is up in that North West corner. So, this is something I'll come back to throughout the talk, but that North West corner, you have a combination of the sandstone relief. So it's a lot more rugged, a lot more sort of fractured environment with a lot more rocks and hidey spots for frogs, and you're also getting a ton of rain as well – you know – as much rain as we get down in winter in Perth, but dumping in January-March instead of July and August like down here. So, that combination of rocks and rain … good for frogs and it's really far away from people, so usually you need some special way to get there.
[Addresses screen] So this guy here, he was just over here in these bushes. So again, the tourist eye is drawn to this, whereas the frogger ear is drawn to here where he was calling. Now we have to do every one, right? [Plays audio] It's a nice, soft call. All right, pretty cool frog. Let him go on for a bit.
[Addresses screen] Okay, so we're still with the green climbing frogs here, except these guys are really tiny. So this is … the ones on the bottom are Litoria bicolor because it's got kind of a two-tone paint job. Let's see what … [Plays audio] What's the name of that Latin instrument, that ‘sh, sh, sh’? Yep, so that's this guy. He's still going. So these guys can be quite abundant where they occur and you can see them in the day. They pose really well for photographs because they're sitting there on the leaf – you know … ‘I am a leaf,’ ‘I am a leaf,’ – and you can get right up and photograph them which is good.
[Addresses screen] Now this little guy above – I lost my original picture but this is a bit of a replacement – he's the Javelin Frog. See if we can get him up. [Plays audio] So these guys – there's only a few little ghettos [of them] in the Kimberley. If you go to the Northern Territory there's a lot more of them. They seem to be more common. Because they're so tiny, they're really sort of sensitive to moisture conditions, so unless it's really raining or it has been raining that week, you don't really see them, you don't really hear them, and I've only seen them once in Drysdale. We're talking about like … that big [makes gesture with fingers]. It's one of the smallest Australian frogs.
They do sort of sound like crickets and I remember on one of the trips up north, me and Dale Roberts and Dave Pearson from DEC – DPAW, we thought we heard some and we were staring at this bush for about five minutes and then Dale said ‘They're crickets,’ and we all just coolly turned around like nothing happened, didn't say anything and – because they're really – they're hard to hear. They're quite strange, but we were keen to see them.
[Addresses screen] Okay. Now these are the Ground Frogs. So, we've come from the trees and grass and these are the superabundant guys you're likely to hear if you go out in the wet season. These are sort of what I call the flooded grassland species. They can be in massive abundance out there. So … one of the common ones is the Striped Rocket Frog on the lower left. [Plays audio] These all have sort of a bunch of ‘chucks’ and ‘beeps’. Yep, so he's pretty cool. He's a really good jumper. So he's got a little extra jumping cartilage in his toes and if you're driving along the roads sort of looking for frogs and you see a frog on the road that sort of jumps off the road in one jump, that's probably this guy because he's a really excellent leaper.
[Addresses screen] Now the other guys, you have a Pale Rocket Frog above and then a Bumpy Rocket Frog below, very similar and just listen for the differences in the calls because it took us forever to figure this out. [Plays audio] You can hear sort of a constant ‘beep’ with a little waiver and then the sort of ‘chuck’-y things. So, he doesn't have the ‘beep’-s, he just has the waiver, but because when you're finding frogs, there's like in a pond, let's say the pond was the floor here, you're talking like 100 frogs or more and they're all making a big noise and it's actually hard to get a recording and look at the frog because when you do a recording, you actually have to look at the frog to make sure it's moving its throat because if you record something and then catch the wrong one, then you've just gone backwards. So, it takes a long time to figure these things out. But yeah, there's your Ground Frogs and the genus Litoria is an absolutely massive genus and one day it'll be broken up and when it's broken up, these will be the original: these will be the Litorias and everything else will have a different name. It's one of those too-hard-basket problems for taxonomists. It's way too hard for me. Someone else is going to do it.
[Addresses screen] All right, so … now this is a story of how we got something new. So this is Butch Maher’s helicopter which is often our taxi up in the wet season when we go up looking for frogs. The codename for this guy was the 'sinkhole frog' because we were up in the Prince Regent. This is a giant sinkhole that he's landed on the edge of and this was a survey sort of towards … this was only a few years ago and it was almost a mopping-up survey. It's like … ‘Well we've got a few new species. We've figured it out. There's nothing more to discover.’ Then we heard this sound. [Plays audio]
So … because I hadn't been to the Kimberley in about a year since we heard the sound, at first I thought it was a new species and then I thought it wasn't, so we grabbed a few individuals as you do, made some recordings and when I got back to the base I was convinced it was not a new species. I thought it was this guy [addresses screen] which is Litoria tornieri which is a well-known frog, the Black-shinned Rocket Frog. Okay, now … there's the differences in the pulses. So you can see this is … this the sinkhole guy and this is tornieri and you can see these hard-wired, evolved differences in the calls. [Plays audio] This is what I thought I was hearing.
So, I guess the point is that frog calls can be really hard to … to figure out and it's a bit strange these two species because tornieri … well, what happened is during the trip someone brought some real tornieris back and it's like ‘Whoa, these are a bit bigger.’ They're from grassland area, they're not in rocks, and then we looked at them and went ‘Oh yeah, it is a new species.’ I’m still waiting for the day where I go … I see an animal and it's like ‘Yeeesssss, it's a new species!!’ Usually it's kind of a surreal thing because it doesn't fit and you want it to fit. So the thing I usually say about discovering a new species, it's kind of like (this is almost weird) but it's kind of like when you've been burgled or something – your car or your house – and you go back to your car or your house and you're trying to make sense of what's going on and then after a while it's like ‘Oh, … someone's come in.’ You know … that's why the door is broken or something, but there's that sort of time when you – when it's kind of surreal, when you're trying to [figure it out] – because it's a new species it's not on the map. Anyway, Eureka … it was [a new species].
Okay, now this guy here … so, that was an example of … okay, the new species is a little bit kind of a ‘son of Black-shinned Rocket Frog’. They're very … they're closely related and you can see how one went from a grassland to a rocky area. [Addresses screen] So, this guy here is sort of in between the grassland frog and the rock frogs which we're going to get to in a second … because he's got slightly expanded toe pads and these guys like sort of rocks, but sometimes they're in grasslands, so they're kind of in between, but this species is doing a few weird things. So, this is a male here which is … the males tend to be kind of small and the females can be quite massive. So the females can be over 70mm big and the males are typically like 35mm – you know – maybe up to 40mm. So if you see them mating you see this little male getting a piggyback from this big female.
[Addresses screen] Now I call them the late-night party frog because it took a while to figure this out working up there, but these guys really only kick off late at night, and they go 'til dawn. So if you went to bed early every night at 11:00[pm] you wouldn't hear very many of these. So it was only [found through] a few nights sort of staying out and being in a situation where it's like these frogs are going crazy … and it has a good, interesting call. [Plays audio]
That's one of my favourite calls. It's pretty wild. So, a lot of these recordings we use for research or we try to isolate the individual, so that was the case. The males in these choruses, they're just jumping everywhere. So I got that recording when one happened to jump where I already had a microphone and got that nice, clean recording. So, what happens when they … so they do that sort of chicken thing, then they do the ‘du, du, du, du, du, du,’ and then all the males would go ‘du, du, du, du,’ [in chorus] and then one will break, break through and go ‘du-du-du-du’ [really rapidly] and then they 'll [the others will follow and] go, ‘du-du-du-du.’ So, I have no idea what's going on. Must be some macho stuff going on there, but maybe it's a good project for someone to figure it out.
[Addresses screen] Okay, so here's the … the Rock Frogs, and yep, they hang around rocky creeks. So here's your – your most common one – Litoria coplandi. You can see this guy in the dry season too if you're lucky and looking around creeks, turning some rocks that you might see them. Let's see what he sounds like. [Plays audio]
Steady. So these guys don't tend to form dense choruses like some other frogs. You just get the lone operator on his rock and they're sort of … they're all spread around trying to attract females that way.
[Addresses screen] So … yep, so this is the common one. You can see the expanded toe pads. This is the Rock Hole Frog which I'll get to in a second and this was a new one, we'll get to.
Now, so … when we first started this project [it was] with the help of Alcoa who funded a lot of the Kimberley research in the early days and helped get the website off the ground and things like that. So … I was based in Kununurra just here and we discovered this species just down the road near Wyndham. So … if you go to Kununurra or Wyndham, The Grotto is a nice swimming hole. It's featured in these new WA Tourism ads with the couple swimming underwater and stuff, but it had a new species of frog just in 2006 when we went there.
So … I was with Marion Anstis, the tadpole lady and we were getting tadpoles at the base of this rock, base of this ridge and we heard this strange call. We checked it out and then it was another sort of surreal moment because – it wasn't a Eureka moment because we heard – we thought the call was different, but no one had a call of the Common Rock Frog. I mean this is … this is the problem with working in these new areas. It's like, ‘Okay, the Common Rock Frog’. You'd think someone would have a recording of it and know what it sounds like? No, there was nothing. So, we had to figure that out and then after about a week or so of arguing in the car and – you know – looking at stuff, it's like … then we had the Eureka.
[Addresses screen] So that's this guy here, the Chattering Rock Frog. [Plays audio]
You can start to hear similar elements between a few of these things. Yeah so, so often with these calls people have found that some part of the call is for the other rivals and one part of the call is for the ladies, and so researchers, behaviourists will get speakers and play just one part of it and see what that – see how that affects the behaviour of males and females, and go from there. But no one's done – no one's sort of done those experiments to break up what … what these signals mean yet.
[Addresses screen] Yep, so that's our … our guy and because I was working with Marion who's bananas about tadpoles, she likes to document every little thing about tadpoles and raise them up and take a million pictures of them, and she was looking at these and going, ‘Oh my God, they're totally different,’ and I said ‘Sure, I'm glad you're on my team.’ Okay, and they … they grow up to cute little baby frogs. Cute … cute frog shot.
[Addresses screen] All right, so this is the Rockhole Frog. So this guy you'll also encounter if you're going for a swim up in a rock hole or hanging around The Grotto. These are known for – excuse me – their skipping ability. So, if the purple is the water and the wood is the rock, if I come up to one, then they'll like skip across the water and then come back and then I can chase it and then it will skip again or go across the creek. So it's that thing where they have a good jumping ability and they're so small they can actually make it across the water. So … that Common Rock Frog also can skip for a little while, but then it sinks.
So … when I started observing that I thought about the … have you guys heard – you've probably heard of – the basilisk lizard or ‘Jesus Christ lizard’, the one that walks on water. Well the little secret there is that the little ones can walk on water but the big ones sink because they're too big, so maybe the same sort of principles are at work in these guys. So I wonder what he sounds like? [Plays audio]
Okay, it goes on for a while. I'll just move along. So, we found a new Rockhole Frog or actually with Russell and Matt Barrett, two really great botanists that grew up in the Kimberley and they're doing great stuff in Perth, really know their plants, but they're also well-rounded naturalists that know all sorts of things and they saw these tadpoles [addresses screen] up in the Prince Regent a few years ago and they just – you know – thought, ‘Well, this isn't in any books. No one's ever heard of these tadpoles.’ They couldn't find any information, so then began the search for what this thing was and what it turned into, because no one really knew what it turned into. Could turn into a giant – I don't know – three-headed frog or something, but it turned out to be this guy. It was a Rockhole Frog, this one here. So the adults don't look that different. They're a little bit redder. They have a few more speckles. The call is a bit different. (Where is it?) So … see if you can remember the other one and then this one. [Plays audio]
So it's pretty much the same but they added that little … that little screech thing in that, and of course the tadpoles are different, and the genetics had some support as well. So there you go, … [it] starts out this goldy colour. Maybe it's camouflaged for the streams they're in, the sandstone platforms. Then they turn into these guys. [Addresses screen]
All right, now that was all the … all the frogs I've talked about so far are tree frogs, the Hylids, the climbing frogs. They're descended from a Southeast Asian group when Australia ran into Southeast Asia 20 plus million years ago. These guys are also tree frogs but they are completely underground and there's a few species in the Kimberley.
[Addresses screen] So this is your big Giant Frog, [Cyclorana australis] at about 10 or 11 centimetres. [Plays audio] They're not subtle frogs. So this guy is one of the first to breed when the wet season starts, so they'll be out honking, whatever they're doing and their tadpoles get in first. And the whole strategy with what this frog is trying to do is to eat other frogs and be the biggest frog around so that you can eat more frogs. So the tadpoles have rapid growth. They're these big schools of tadpoles you see early in the wet season, and then the … the metamorphs start to come out and then they don't wander away from the pond very far because there's all this food that's going to start coming out of the pond. And so these guys are just champion frog eaters. Different species, same species, brother, sister … nothing personal, but you're going to get eaten.
I had the experience … there's a little ghetto of these in the Pilbara and I was on the Pilbara survey and I made the mistake of putting a frog about this big in with a frog about that big and then I got back to base and there was one [big] frog [left] in the bag. I thought ‘Oh maybe there's a hole in it?’ No. So … sometimes when you're around ponds you'll hear frogs scream because frogs do this sort of … sort of unnerving sort of scream sound, and if you go and investigate, often it's one of these Giant Frogs clamped onto the leg of another frog and like, that size difference is – I'm not kidding you about that – and they'll just take their time and get that frog in there somehow [into their mouth], and they're just … they're just really good at it. But it's that whole sort of trick about getting out there first in the season, then they have that advantage right through the wet season.
[Plays audio] Okay, here's our Long-footed Frog and this guy you'll see also chomping on frogs around ponds and like the australis [Giant Frog], he dribbles down to the arid zone a little bit, but not in the Pilbara, more a bit down the Canning Stock Route there's some records, … still relying on the monsoonal rains for both of these species. If you go to a chorus when these guys are really going off, it just sounds really weird and you can barely … you can't even think it's just so loud, and you start to go mad after a little while just listening to all that.
[Addresses screen] Now there's also this hidden species amongst us we think now, which is this guy, the Daly Waters Frog … Daly Waters, Northern Territory. And so we keep finding these guys in low-frequency and if that guy's a ‘uhh’ [sound], then this guy's a ‘brr’, but it's a little bit different coloured, but there's a lot of overlap, … but this guy probably goes all the way to about Derby we found them. So, again that's on my ‘to-do’ list. Watch this space in a few years.
[Addresses screen] Okay. So Wailing … may not be Bob Marley. [Plays audio] They're kind of similar. These guys, I haven't seen very many of them. They've just got a call only a mother could love. It's annoying.
[Addresses screen] This is a … it's a little bit more primitive this guy, sort of looks primitive and he's got this hidden ear drum where the skin's sort of grown over it. These are nice … there's a nice cute smile and this was a night where … this is what happens with a lot of these sort of frogs. There'll be … you won't see very many of them and I remember this … this night there was, sort of – you know – a bit of a build-up and then it had a big dump [of rain] and then those are all that species Cyclorana cryptotis. You can see them all in the background. You know … everyone was getting lucky [procreating]. It was all happening. There was a few … a few the next night and then nothing, and then just a few individuals for the rest of the wet season. So this is what they call in frog world, 'explosive breeders' and that's a lot of these subterranean guys that come out of the ground, just have a – you know – a night of ‘making hay’ and then back in the ground or wherever they go, as opposed to the more prolonged ones which we'll get to.
[Addresses screen] All right, so that was the tree frogs, the Family Hylidae and now we're going to shift into some Gondwanan frogs. So … now, none of these are in the Kimberley. They're all in the South West, so you won't see these up in the Kimberley. So that's our Heleiop here. So they're only in the – five species in Perth and one over near Sydney. These are more desert guys – Neobatrachus, and that's your sort of classic Banjo Frog from Limnodynastes but there's – there's a few weird species, different kind of species in the Kimberley. So … when I say these are Gondwanan, their nearest relatives are from South America, so when South America and Antarctica and Australia were all connected. So we're talking – well as a colleague says – they're … they were in Australia before Australia was Australia, … the original Australians. Okay. [Plays audio]
[Addresses screen showing Limnodynastes convexiusculus] So he's a bit … he's a bit honky. Now this is – as opposed to that explosive breeder, I showed you before – this guy … you'll hear these guys at a swamp through dry times, just one male honking in a swamp, night-in, night-out. So, they're sort of reliable that way. Never very dense, but steady, and this guy is definitely a swamp … a swamp dweller. So he's in sort of boggy, marshy areas.
[Addresses screen] Okay, now this is the Flat-headed Frog. There's a bit of controversy with this one. Let's get his call up here. [Plays audio]
So, this was … now when they created Lake Argyle – which you can actually see from space in that first satellite shot – there was a sort of a, ‘Well, this whole area's going to be flooded, everything's going to die,’ so the Museum and Harry Butler and a few people went around and grabbed a whole bunch of specimens, and in sorting through that, … one of these showed up. So … then it was described as a new species, but of course the original place where it was from was destroyed. So … people thought it might have been extinct.
Then people thought it was Limnodynastes tasmaniensis and that's the very common one down south, all through Adelaide and Melbourne and that area. And there was this sort of tall tale that – you know – there was construction up in – you know – Kununurra and they … they came up in the demountable buildings and so it was tasmaniensis, but it turned out that the [new] species wasn't extinct. It goes well into the Bradshaw country in the Northern Territory and it's not such a mystery anymore, but it's a nice, nice frog and this is a male here. You can tell they're the male because in some of these frog species, the males have these sort of giant ‘Popeye’ arms which might mean multiple mating or something … something like that.
[Addresses screen] Just throw that out there. All right, Woodworker. [Plays audio]
So these guys are busy toiling away. Again, they're sort of a steady caller. These are definitely rocky creek guys. So … because it was such an unusual habitat, the original describers called it Megastolotis: 'otis' meaning the ear because it has this massive eardrum, almost as big as the eye. But no, it's just a Limnodynastes that has wandered into the rocks and speciated somehow. So there's all these fragmented populations of these guys in the Kimberley and they spill out into the Top End as well. One of my favourites.
[Addresses screen] Okay, now these are the Notadens. So there's only four of these species all through Australia and two make it to the Kimberley. Now, I'll say they’re a bit oozy because if you pick them up or start to mess with them, they start oozing this sort of yellowy-whitish sort of goo from the back which means, ‘don't touch, don't put in your mouth and back off’.
[Addresses screen] Okay, so there's this guy here. So this is … he goes from the Kimberley across the Top End, so he's sort of all throughout the Monsoonal Tropics. [Plays audio] So these calls, … like even on the last trip there was some new people and I had to even take my own advice because I … I was hoping to get this species and the next species together because it hadn't been documented. And so I heard a chorus, what I thought was a chorus of these – and I've done this before – it's like, ‘I can hear the chorus, it can't be that far’, and you will walk for kilometres and kilometres and it just sounds like the same distance. So … I've learned my lesson not to follow these choruses, so not for too long, but there's something about the sound that just carries, and when you do find them they can be in quite big numbers. But they're pretty shy frogs and very cute.
[Addresses screen showing Notaden weigeli] All right, now this is the special North West version of the Notaden which is the most handsome. Very nice colours. These guys are a lot more rocky. So the other Notadens are burrowers in the deserts or – you know – like the last one, all across the Monsoonal Tropics. These guys like rocks for some reason, so it's one of those things where for some reason evolution has just created this thing and it's where I've … I've seen boulders, big car-sized boulders with like this globular frog sitting on top of it – you know – and they have proportionally longer legs. So there's something about the rocks that these guys really like.
[Addresses screen] And this is a bit of that defensive … defensive posture. So, these guys are really sensitive. Well I might as well give you the call while we're talking, [plays audio] … and by the way this is the first time this call has ever been recorded, so very few people in the world have heard this. A little bit similar to the other ones. So these guys, I've always thought there was like a chorus – you know – maybe, but me and Claire Stevenson used to work here. We were wandering around these outcrops and there seemed to be just scattered individuals, so a very different breeding system perhaps. We just have these sort of lone wolves out there doing a call, hoping to attract a female. Maybe it has to do something with the swamp versus rock habitat driving this. These are more sorts of questions …
[Addresses screen] Oh but, I'll get back to this guy. So, you don't even have to touch these things before they stick their head down like that, because if you put a torch on them at night they'll just be really sensitive and then you can just like touch them with a feather and then they'll make this like ‘woop, woop, woop’ [call]. It's a really weird sound, but it makes you go ‘Whoa.’ And then they – like turtles and Blue Tongues and Thorny Devils – they do that thing where if you come at them like this, they'll go like that [demonstrates turning their back] and if you come at that way, they'll go like that, sort of presenting to you the back which is full – if you start to get them excited – it will be full of this sort of custardy goo on the back.
And I remember I was photographing one, one time, and I was trying to get him in a good position and he wasn't liking it. And then I was reaching my hand towards him and he actually leapt towards me and gooed me. So that's like the first time I've ever been attacked by a frog. It engaged me and I left it alone.
[Addresses screen showing Platyplectrum ornatum] Okay, now these guys used to be in Limnodynastes, but these are actually related to a thing called Lechriodus which has these New Guinea connections, so they go a bit back and they come in these three different morphs. So you've got your racing stripe morph, your ornate morph and then your sort of plain morph as well. It's all – you know – all the same species, just like eye colour or something. [Plays audio] And very distinctive call.
So, these guys have a weird strategy in that your giant frog eats the baby frogs coming out of the pond, where these tadpoles have a bit of extra equipment to eat tadpoles in the pond, and that's sort of what they do. So we're just starting to learn about some of these habits of these animals. So that's their cool thing.
[Addresses screen] All right, so that was the … the Limnodynastidae are the big Gondwanan frogs and now we have the small Gondwanan frogs, the Myobatrachidae. So none of these are in the Kimberley. So these are our southern frogs here in three different genera, and you might hear it here first, but I know people are wanting to put these all into the single genus because they're actually not that differently related.
[Addresses screen] This guy Spicospina, his nearest relative – which is a long time ago – is Uperoleia which is a Kimberley frog which we'll be getting to in a sec. We have a couple of … a few Crinias in the Kimberley. They're sort of … they're small and they're on the wetter edges and then these guys aren't represented at all.
[Addresses screen] All right, so this was a … we found a new Crinia up in the Kimberley. So the normal Crinia is this guy which is basically everywhere. So the 'bilingua' means ‘two-voice’. You can hear two calls. [Plays audio]
Yeah, so these guys can be in quite big numbers. They're in grass tussocks. They're invisible. They're like small little guys that are very shy, so they're really hard to catch and can be in massive numbers. And this is one that you'll hear on films in the background that are shot up north. You'll hear this frog sort of ‘crick’-ing in the background. I think I heard some in Charlie's Country [the film by Rolf de Heer] I saw the other day.
[Addresses screen] But this guy, here … we were up at Mitchell Plateau and this was Luke Price, an ex-student of some – in Adelaide - of some people and he was very enthusiastic and he really discovered it. And then he saw few of these sort of frogs and he was like ‘Hey Paul, this must be a new species,’ and I’m like ‘No, it's just … it's a baby one of these or it's just …’ – you know, it was late at night or something – and then the next morning I was like, ‘The kid's onto something. Could be … could be a new one.’ So, it's a very distinctive species. It's got these flanges on the fingers which is what the name means – fimbriata – and we have no idea what the flanges are for in the males.
Sometimes the Banjo Frogs have flanges on the females' fingers because they make a bubble nest. They slap the water with the extra flange, make a bubble. But so far we've only found these flanges in the few specimens we've encountered on the males … but I like mysteries like that. Like … it must be for something, so we just have to encounter more frogs.
[Addresses screen] Now this is the sort of species that people like me lose a bit of sleep over because I don't know what it sounds like. I've never heard the call. When these pictures were taken, the next night someone on our team found these frogs, took the pictures and said ‘I've got to go here and try to get my recording.’ And I sat there for like an hour with these frogs by this pool … nothing, and then – you know – we had to go eventually. So, it bugs me. I don't know what it sounds like. So you can't hear it either. I'll get back up there. I promise.
[Addresses screen] See, this guy … so if you look at the Crinia family tree, it's a bit weird because basically the earliest branch are two species in Tasmania. Next off the branch is this one and then the other ones are just the common ones like we have in the South West, Crinia signifera over in the East, those sort of species. So, this is like a really strange relic. It's been hanging out in the Kimberley for millions and millions of years and it's only in that North West rocky corner. Okay, … so it's species like these which are really quite exciting, and it's beautiful. It's a nice species.
[Addresses screen] Okay, now the Uperoleias, always left for last. These guys are called toadlets because they resemble toads and they're brown, a bit rough skin, sort of cryptic habits. And the Kimberley is like the epicentre of diversity, so, there's something like a dozen species in the Kimberley and there's about two dozen species across Australia. But, the Kimberley is where it's at if you're a connoisseur of these guys, and they drive most froggers absolutely mad and some people would just say ‘Someone else's problem. You deal with them.’
So, they come in two sort of flavours: the ‘click’-ers and the ‘squelch’-ers. [Plays audio] So that's that guy there. The guy on the right [Plays audio]. Hear a few other frogs in the back? So that's the ‘click’-ers. They all sort of kind of sound like that and that's a ‘squelch’. So you've got to be really into these frogs to figure them out, and they do have these little - like with a lot of sort of things that don't move too fast - they have a bit of flash colouration or warning colouration in the legs. It's a nice species ID tool. I'm not sure if it's going to scare any sort of predators necessarily, but it's … a lot of them do have it. [Plays audio] And I just thought I'd throw this guy in there because this – they're sort of like, you know – a dirt clod or something and they're really cryptic, really hard to see and they just sort of fly under the radar, but they can be superabundant where they occur, these little guys.
[Addresses screen] All right, now we did get a new one of these species a few years ago. So, there he goes. Here's Butch in his trusty Robinson 44 and Butch is a Kimberley guy. He lives in Derby now which is the biggest town he's ever lived in and sometimes he says … he says ‘It feels like the walls are closing in. There's like too many people.’ So this was at … we did a lot of this research as this place called Bachsten Creek Camp which is a bird watching, fishing camp just outside the Prince Regent National Park. So Butch always sleeps in his tent, even in the wet season and this little bit of rock was just behind Butch's tent. So … he was trying to sleep – you know – but we were being discourteous to our helicopter pilot and making all this noise because we heard this … this funny call. I don't have the call with me, but it turned out to be this new species and here's the records here, right up there.
[Addresses screen] That straight line you always see on the maps, that's the Prince Regent River itself. Woops – but there it is. It sort of goes ‘rrt, rrt, rrt’. I call that a rasp, a rasp, sort of like rubbing your finger along a comb or something. So it has a distinctive call and it is really tiny. It's a little two centimetre guy, very cute and it's a little bit primitive too. It has a little bit of funky tubercules, a little spotty on its face, so it's a nice little attractive one. The closest relative is this one just outside of Darwin. So again, it's a North West rocky only species. So, you get that feeling that the North West where the rocks are, it cuts species off from the rest of the sandstone areas in Arnhem Land.
[Addresses screen] Oh yes, and one more species. So this was formerly trachyderma. So this just came out a few months ago. So trachyderma was supposed to be around Kununurra and then extend into the Top End. So a few years ago we found them around Fitzroy Crossing and I was like ‘What are these? I've never seen these before.’ So it turned out all the ones in Kununurra weren't trachyderma. The old records – because we never really found them – they turned out to be other species and this guy turned out to be a new kind of species. [Plays audio]
So he's … he's in the ‘click’-er camp, but you can see he's added a few pulses, so it's starting to be a mini rasp, if that makes sense. Okay … and I'll leave you with that.
So … I'd just like to thank all the frogtographers including Brad and Marion. This is Marion Anstis here, tadpole lady. This is Scotty from one of our trips last year, a cool Aboriginal kid from Kalumburu and that's Claire who used to be from the Museum and Mitzy [from ANU]. When we got that sinkhole [frog], she was there to discover that too.
Alcoa's sponsored us for a long time and other projects at the Museum as well including the education team. As Felena mentioned [in the lecture introduction], Department of Parks and Wildlife or CALM or DEC - often I work with those guys because it's really good to get out together, and [with] lots of helpers throughout the years too. I like a bit of … usually on the trips I try to mix it up with a bit of youth, a bit of wisdom, i.e. old people, and – you know – mix it up a bit, so you get different teams and a different experience and everyone's worked really hard on the trips to get the pictures and make the discoveries. So … thanks to all those people.