Leaf me alone

27th November 1998 at 00:00
(Photograph) - If you are a frog, and you live in the Malaysian rainforests, there are two ways to avoid becoming someone's lunch. You can be bright and colourful, warning potential predators of your toxic capabilities or, like this funny-looking amphibian, you can disguise your frogness. Pretend to be a leaf instead.

Megophyrus nasuta may be a mouthful for us but its camouflage ensures it won't be for anyone else. The unusual, angular appearance of the leaf frog, or Asian horned frog, as it is more commonly known, is not only a defence mechanism but also a covert means of attack.

This frog spends most of its time on the forest floor, where it burrows into the fallen leaves and waits for its next meal to arrive, pouncing on passing invertebrates such as locusts and worms.

The Asian horned frog is not the only impersonator of fallen vegetation in the animal kingdom - such looks enable the leaf fish to float up to unsuspecting prey and also allow the leaf insect a quiet life - but it is one of the oldest.

It has had a long time to perfect its leaf lookalike routine; amphibians were the first colonisers of dry land some 370 million years ago, and there are about 3,500 varieties of frog, distinguishable from toads by their smoother, moister skin.

They have adapted to different climates and habitats with some remarkable evolutionary tricks. Tree frogs developed suction pads on their feet to help them climb and webbing between their toes to act as parachutes when they fall.

They come in many colours - just check out the red banded crevice creeper and yellow banded poison arrow frog. And they make all sorts of noises - there are whistling frogs, barking frogs and even a sheep frog.

In fact, wherever you are in the world - apart from the poles, the Sahara desert, northern Canada and Siberia - there's probably a frog near you. Say what you like about frogs, but they are survivors. Unless they end up in the hands of a biology teacher, and then they are history.

Harvey McGavin


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