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Ghost Frogs

David Cannatella
from Frost (1985)
Containing group: Neobatrachia


These are known as the Ghost frogs. There is one genus, Heleophryne, with four species. They are small to moderate sized frogs (30-65 mm). These frogs are found in rocky montane streams in South Africa; the tips of the fingers and toes are expanded. The tadpoles have large suctorial mouths with many rows of denticles, but lack beaks. The relationship of this group to other frogs is unclear. No fossils are known.

Geographic Distribution

The distribution of living members of the family Heleophrynidae is indicated in red.
distribution map of living members of the family Heleophrynidaeimage info

Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships

The taxon Heleophrynidae is redundant with Heleophryne. Heleophryne was defined by Ford and Cannatella (1993) to be the node-based name for the common ancestor of the living species of Heleophryne, and all its descendants. Synapomorphies of Heleophryne include the absence of keratinous beaks in larvae, although numerous rows of denticles are present. The taxon includes one genus with three species. Laurent (1979, 1986) included this taxon as a subfamily of Myobatrachidae, but there seem to be no derived characters that would suggest that relationship in preference to any other.

Duellman and Trueb (1986) listed the following series of taxa (excluding myobatrachids, sooglossids, and Heleophryne) as a subclade of Neobatrachia, diagnosed by axillary amplexus (character P): Leptodactylidae, Brachycephalidae, Bufonidae, etc. (see below). However, they pointed out that some leptodactylids have inguinal amplexus, suggesting that basal leptodactylids are paraphyletic, or that the character is reversed. In reporting inguinal amplexus in all three species of sooglossids, Nussbaum (1980) reviewed the literature on amplexus position; Somuncuria, a species of Batrachyla, and some Pleurodema have inguinal amplexus. The position of these taxa as basal leptodactylids (Lynch, 1978) suggests that inguinal amplexus may be primitive for this group. Other cases of inguinal amplexus are known for Bufonidae: Osornophryne (Ruiz-C. and Hernández-C., 1976) and Bufo fastidiosus (Graybeal and de Queiroz, 1992), but these are considered to be reversals. Also, a photo in Halliday and Adler (1986:38-39) shows Brachycephalus in inguinal amplexus. Thus, the level at which axillary amplexus is a synapomorphy is unclear.


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About This Page
If you are interested in authoring or co-authoring the page for this taxon, or some part of it (even a species), contact David Cannatella.

David Cannatella

Section of Integrative Biology and Texas Memorial Museum, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to David Cannatella at

Citing this page:

Cannatella, David. 1995. Heleophryne. Ghost Frogs. Version 01 January 1995 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Heleophryne/16942/1995.01.01 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

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