The South American horned frog, is an incredibly attractive type of frog, with some very interesting features and behaviours. Often referred to as the Pacman frog due to its round shape and large mouth, which gives it the familiar look of the iconic video game character, ‘Pac-Man’.
These frogs exist within the genus ‘Ceratophrys‘, which is a member of the ‘Ceratophryidae‘ family of amphibia. There are eight distinct species, in various habitats spread across their South American range, each with their own quirks and characteristics.
Appearance & Characteristics
The South American horned frogs are very colourful frogs, with attractive patterning across the species. The most striking are the distinctive green and brown dorsal colorations of the Argentine horned frog and the Caatinga horned frog, which are very different to each other.
Whatever the species, their markings are unique in their natural habitat. Their bodies are stout, and their skin has a slightly rough texture. Their eyes are set high on their heads, giving them a somewhat comical appearance.
These frogs tend to be sexually dimorphic and Females are larger than males. Size can vary between species, but females are capable of growing up to 6.5 inches, and males to around 4.5 inches. Their weight can vary, depending on age, food scarcity and habitat, but they have a hefty build, which aids them in their predatory habits.
While they might look somewhat docile, these frogs have an impressive bite. Their large mouths and aggressive nature mean they won’t hesitate to bite if they feel threatened, making them a force to be reckoned with in the amphibian world. Some females are even known to be cannibalistic, only too happy to eat their mate after copulation. There’s a sobering thought!
The 8 Species Of South American Horned Frog
|Common Name||Scientific Name||Location||Features||Conservation Status|
|Brazilian horned frog||Ceratophrys aurita||Brazil||Rounded body, large mouth, green and brown dorsal coloration||Least Concern|
|Colombian horned frog||Ceratophrys calcarata||Colombia and Venezuela||Stout build, high-set eyes, aggressive nature||Least Concern|
|Surinam horned frog||Ceratophrys cornuta||Northern part of South America||Sticky tongue, sit-and-wait predator, cannibalistic tendencies||Least Concern|
|Cranwell’s horned frog||Ceratophrys cranwelli||Gran Chaco region of Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil||Large mouth, solitary nature, prefers humid environments||Least Concern|
|Caatinga horned frog/ Joazeiro horned frog||Ceratophrys joazeirensis||Brazil||Distinctive green and brown dorsal coloration, aggressive when threatened||Least Concern|
|Argentine horned frog||Ceratophrys ornata||Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil||Voracious eater, can consume prey almost half its size, known to be cannibalistic||Near Threatened|
|Stolzmann’s horned frog||Ceratophrys stolzmanni||Ecuador and Peru||Solitary, prefers terrestrial habitats, has a very sticky tongue for catching prey||Vulnerable|
|Ecuador horned frog||Ceratophrys testudo||Ecuador||Large mouth, aggressive nature, can live up to 15 years in captivity with proper care||Data Deficient|
Distribution – Location and Habitat
Native to South America, these frogs can be found across various countries, each species having its preferred region. Their range spans across the north of the continent from Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru, down through Uruguay, Paraguay Bolivia and Argentina.
As terrestrial amphibians, they have an affinity for humid environments. They are commonly found among damp leaf litter in grassland, rainforest and wetlands. While they can swim, they are not adept at it and prefer to stay on solid ground, often burrowing into the soft earth or hiding among leaves.
The Lifestyle & Behaviour Of The South American Horned Frog
These frogs are solitary by nature. They don’t seek out companionship and can be quite territorial. While they are generally calm, they can become aggressive when threatened or during feeding. This is particularly true of the Caatinga horned frog.
They are sit-and-wait predators, so instead of actively hunting, they wait patiently for their prey to come within striking distance, making a sudden move to snatch their prey when the opportunity arises.
Their large mouths allow them to attempt to eat prey up to half their size, but they are known to attempt to eat prey much larger than that on occasion. Much like humans shopping when they are hungry, if they are ravenous they might try to take on prey bigger than themselves, and far bigger than their stomachs and mouths will allow. The problem is, if they take hold of something too big, they can have trouble letting go and this has caused some to even choke to death.
Diet & Nutrition
Their diet is impressively diverse across the species. From insects to small mammals like mice, fish, other frogs, and even small reptiles, they aren’t picky eaters. Their large mouths and aggressive appetite mean they can consume prey almost half their size, competently.
Some horned frogs are known to even be cannibalistic. In situations where food is scarce, they might resort to consuming their own kind, even their mates. It doesn’t matter to them if their mate is larger than they are, this doesn’t deter them one bit.
Their sticky tongues are adept at catching prey. Once the prey is within reach, they use their tongue to pull it into their large jaws, and if small enough they might even swallow it whole. Their jaws are also incredibly strong for an amphibian, comparable to mammalian predators of similar size.
Predators & Threats
While they are formidable predators, they are also pretty small and face their own threats. Some predatory fish and other amphibians will go for the tadpole or young horned frogs when in water. Larger animals such snakes and various birds, and even some reptiles might prey on them. Then there are opossums and raccoons too, that share habitat and are not picky eaters at all.
Additionally, habitat destruction, due to both direct human interference or climate change poses a significant threat to their survival, and many species face the prospect of a declining population either now, or in the future.
The South American Horned Frog Reproduction
South American Horned Frogs are oviparous, laying eggs that later hatch into tadpoles. Males often call out to attract females. Once a pair is formed, the male grasps the female in a mating embrace known as amplexus.
Once the male and female have mated, the female will find a suitable water source in which to lay her spawn eggs. She can lay up to 2,000 eggs depending on environmental conditions. The exact duration of their development and the number of offspring can vary among species, and also on the avoidance of local predators.
Once hatched, they don’t stay in their infant state for long. Tadpoles turn into small frogs within a matter of a few weeks, and if they survive this early stage, by the age of around 2 years old they will be sexually mature adults.
Lifespan of The South American Horned Frog
In the wild, their lifespan can be quite short, ranging between 3 – 4 years for some species, up to 8 years for others. Given equal environments, they would all be capable of reaching the latter. However, in captivity, with the right care, diet, and environment, they can live up to 15 years.
Population and Conservation
The exact numbers of their population in the wild are not well-documented. While the IUCN does have data on most horned frog species on the Red List, for many reasons, much of this data is out of date and the species need reassessed. While most are listed as ‘Least Concern’ it is likely that populations of all species are in decline.
5 fun South American horned frog facts for kids
- Their nickname, ‘Pacman frog,’ comes from their round shape and large mouth, similar to the video game character.
- They can eat prey almost half their size!
- In the right conditions, they can live up to 15 years.
- They have a very sticky tongue that helps them catch their prey.
- Female frogs are generally larger than male frogs.