Hemisus guttatus
Spotted Snout-Burrower, Spotted Shovel-nosed Frog, Spotted Burrowing Frog
family: Hemisotidae

© 2010 Division of Herpetology, University of Kansas (1 of 1)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN (Red List) Status Vulnerable (VU)
Other International Status None
National Status None
Regional Status None


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Hemisus guttatus females can reach 80 mm (Channing, 2003), or 3 inches; the males can reach up to 2 inches (Wager, 1965). This frog has a globular body with a small pointed head and pointed snout, and tiny eyes (Channing, 2003). It is dark purple or brown, with numerous yellow dots on the dorsum (Channing, 2003). The snout is hardened and flattened, with the mouth on the underside (Wager, 1965) and is used for burrowing head-first, as the common name of Spotted Snout-Burrower suggests (Channing, 2003). The arms and fingers are strong and muscular (Channing, 2003). Fingers bear strong claws, like those of a mole (Wager, 1965). Toes are not webbed and the skin is smooth (Channing, 2003). Each heel bears a small, keratinized ridge on the inner surface, facilitating burrowing (Wager, 1965). The inner metatarsal tubercle is not as long as the second toe (Channing, 2003). The male does not appear to have a vocal sac, but in males the throat is dark-colored (Wager, 1965).

The tadpole of Hemisus guttatus reaches 62 mm in length, with a body of 21 mm and tail of 41 mm (Wager, 1965). It is brown to olive-brown in color, with gray under the chin and a white belly (Wager, 1965). The tail is broad with a distinctive cream stripe on either side (Rose, 1950). The first third to half of the tail has a thickened sheath (Channing, 2003), looking almost as though the tail has been broken off and regenerated there; in this thickened section, the center portion horizontally is enlarged and darkened (Wager, 1965). When the tadpole reaches 25 mm in length, the posterior half of the tail and fins darkens to black. The jaws are keratinized, with 2 complete and 4 divided rows of denticles above the jaws and three complete rows below the jaws, and a tooth formula of 6(3-6)/3. The mouth has 3 to 4 rows of small papillae at the sides, plus 2 rows of papillae below, and an additional 6 larger papillae below. The head rapidly changes to being pointed when the front legs are formed (Wager, 1965).

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: South Africa


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These frogs can be found in South Africa, in the KwaZulu Natal lowlands between Hluhluwe and Durban (Channing, 2003), and up to the top of the Lebombo Mountains, over 1000 m above sea level (IUCN, 2006). They inhabit arid open and woody savanna (Channing, 2003). These frogs are mostly fossorial and thus spend most of their time underground in areas of flat, sandy soil that tend to flood during the rains (Channing, 2003), near pools or vleis (Wager, 1965).

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
This species is nocturnal (Channing, 2003). It has been described as "lively and agile", despite its globose body, and defends itself by burrowing quickly into the loamy soil (Wager, 1965). The hardened, flattened snout is pushed into the ground with up-and-down movements, like a spade, while the hands and claws dig into the soil and the back legs exert force (Wager, 1965). This frog is unusual in its head-first burrowing, as most burrowing frogs do so feet-first (Rose, 1950). During the dry season, Hemisus guttatus estivates within muddy hollows and banks. It prefers loamy soil (Passmore and Carruthers, 2005). The first rains of the season signal the frogs to breed. During the mating season, males call from concealment, usually from a muddy spot under vegetation next to pools. The mating call is a long, high-pitched buzz, consisting of many pulses emitted at a rate of about 50 pulses per second, with a dominant frequency of 2.1 kHz and a duration that may last more than 2 seconds (Channing, 2003).

The male grasps the female in amplexus as the female digs a burrow in wet soil, with the female then dragging the amplectant pair inside the burrow. After mating, the female lays a clutch of about 200 eggs in jelly capsules, within the burrow (Channing, 2003). (Although Wager (1965) says the clutch is 2000 eggs, the photo in his book looks more like 200.) The eggs are deposited in a compact mass approximately 15 cm (8 inches) below the surface, in a chamber or cavity. The cavity has smoothened walls and is about 3 inches in diameter (Wager, 1965). Several layers of empty, hard, transparent jelly capsules are laid on top of the clutches, to help protect the eggs from desiccation (Channing, 2003) and perhaps from the weight of the mother frog (Wager, 1965). The nest of eggs is nearly the same diameter as the large female frog (photo in Wager, 1965), at 2.5 inches in diameter and 1.25 inches in thickness. Females remain with the eggs (Channing, 2003). Once the eggs are ready to hatch, at 12 days, the female digs a tunnel towards and into the water (Wager, 1965). The tadpoles are very active (Rose, 1950; Wager, 1965) and wriggle their way down the tunnel to reach the water (Wager, 1965). Also, when the pond fills with rainwater, the burrows fill and the tadpoles may be transported to the pond by the rising water (Channing, 2003). Tadpoles of this species do not have external gills, but do possess a well-vascularized venter, which likely functions for oxygen absorption (Wager, 1965). They are able to live out of water for at least two weeks (Wager, 1965). Tadpoles of the related Hemisus marmoratum are able to survive out of the water for seventeen days (Wager, 1965).

The adult diet consists of termites and earthworms (Channing, 2003).

Trends and Threats
Hemisus guttatus is common and not currently threatened, but may be in the future. Some of its coastal habitat is threatened by development (Channing, 2003).

The specific name "guttatus" refers to the spotting on this species (Channing, 2003).


Channing, A. (2003). ''Spotted snout-burrower, Hemisus guttatus.'' Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 6, Amphibians. 2nd edition. M. Hutchins, W. E. Duellman, and N. Schlager, eds., Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Passmore, N. and Carruthers, V. (1995). South African Frogs, a Complete Guide. Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Rose, W. (1950). The Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern Africa. Maskew Miller, Limited, Cape Town.

Wager, V. A. (1965). The Frogs of South Africa. Purnell and Sons, Cape Town, South Africa.

Written by Peera Chantasirivisal (Kris818 AT, UC Berkeley
First submitted 2005-11-03
Edited by Kellie Whittaker (2008-01-09)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2008 Hemisus guttatus: Spotted Snout-Burrower <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Apr 25, 2017.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2017. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 25 Apr 2017.

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