Science Saturday

The Devil Frog was the Dinosaur-Eating, Biggest Frog Ever

There's something creepy about frogs, isn't there? Their eyes pointing in two different directions, their smooth, cold skin, their tendency to suddenly spring in any least they aren't big. Well, you read the headline on this article, so you know what you're getting yourself into. Meet Beelzebufo ampinga, the dinosaur-eating "devil frog".

The Devil's in the Dentals

So let's get one thing straight — the "devil frog" isn't the stuff of 1950s monster movies. You won't see it smashing up cities anytime soon, although it could do a number on the tiny, forced-perspective sets. Beelzebufo measured 41 centimeters (16 inches) from tip-to-no-tail, and weighed about 4.5 kgs (10 pounds). You know, big as far as frogs go, but Godzilla would make mincemeat of it.

Still, there's something devilish about the beast. After all, the name Beelzebufo is a portmanteau of the demon "Beelezebub" and "bufo", the Latin word for "toad". And it even had horns, thanks to the pointed protrusions that encircled its eyes.

The devil frog may have died out with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but its descendants, the South American horned frog, are still known for their pointy little horns. They're also known for their powerful bite. And that got researchers thinking about what their much bigger older brother could do.

So they did what scientists do. They set up a little bite pad for South American horned frogs to chomp on, then extrapolated how strong the devil frog's bite was by the difference in jaw size. The number they came up with was a staggering 500 pounds of force, or three times the strength of a human bite at the molar. But what was this mega-Kermit chowing down on?

Making a Meal of Megafauna

Again, the answer probably lies in the behavior of the devil frog's relatives. And it's not pretty. Unlike most frogs, which are strictly insectivorous, the South American horned frog relishes meals of animals as big as itself, or bigger. The modern frogs' peers in the weight department are things like mice, fish, and small reptiles. But the devil frog was about 10 times bigger.

That means its diet might have consisted of the smallest dinosaurs, or perhaps the untended hatchlings of larger dinos. Another possibility? Newly hatched crocodiles, which were no joke 65 million years ago. In other words, if this frog started singing "Hello, My Baby," we'd just pretend we didn't notice.

Central American Horned Frogs

Written by Reuben Westmaas October 12, 2017

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