A medium-sized Hyperolius with a maximum body length of about 33 mm. Pupil horizontal. The adult color pattern is extremely variable and has led to many systematic and nomenclatural uncertainties about this ‘superspecies’. Ongoing investigations into the ecology, call structure and genetics of populations from different parts of Africa will help to resolve the taxonomy of this group (Minter et al. 2004). The pattern varies from distinct stripes through to vermiculations, dots and splotches, and the colours of the patterns vary from dark brown or black through to yellow and peppermint green. Juvenile males appear to be overall brown during their first breeding season (see photograph of juveniles in combat).
For another description of H. marmoratus, see the H. viridiflavus superspecies account (by A. Schiøtz).
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Gabon, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, United Republic of, Zimbabwe
This species forms part of a large complex of geographical variants distributed across most of sub-Saharan Africa.
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
The adults aestivate during the dry season, and have been found sheltering some distance from their breeding sites in vegetation or under logs and stones. During this time they often take up residence inside houses, where they conceal themselves behind cupboards, pelmets, pictures and in toilet cisterns. The breeding behaviour of this species is arguably the most well documented for any African frog, with over 15 papers and numerous theses relating to the subject published within the last ten years.
Although males will call after rain at any time of the year, breeding normally takes place from October to February. At low altitudes male calling behaviour is inhibited by temperatures below 16°C, while at higher altitudes breeding has been observed at temperatures below 10°C.
During the day, adults usually move into the canopy of surrounding trees or bask in the sun on emergent vegetation at the edge of the breeding site. H. marmoratus utilise a wide variety of breeding sites, ranging from temporary ponds and seepages to permanent bodies of water such as dams, marshes, reedbeds, sluggish rivers and streams (Channing 2001). At dusk they descend to the pond where males take up specific call sites (which they return to on consecutive nights) and call consistently from dusk to just after midnight. Where present, tall emergent plants such as reeds and sedges (e.g. Eleocharis limosa, Cyperus papyrus and Typha latifolia) are favored as call sites, but males will also call from trees, grasses, bushes, floating vegetation or even bare soil at the water’s edge.
On average, males only call for a few nights in a row, returning to the breeding chorus after a period of about 10 days (Dyson et al. 1992). Gravid females enter the pond shortly after dusk and usually select a mate within a few hours. After several hours in axillary amplexus, the eggs are laid in water. Females have been observed to lay more than one clutch of eggs per season with a month long interval between layings (pers. obs.).
Between 150 and 650 eggs are laid in flattened clumps of about 20, on the surface of submerged leaves, stalks or stones or amongst the roots of aquatic plants (Channing 2001). Tadpoles hatch within 5 days and metamorphosis takes about 6-8 weeks.
Trends and Threats
The major threat to this species is habitat loss through drainage of wetlands and afforestation. In several areas of prime habitat, the planting of exotic Eucalyptus forests has lowered the water table to such a degree that many ponds within the coastal dune forest have completely disappeared (Minter et al. 2004).
The Painted Reed Frog is locally abundant and sub-populations often consist of hundreds or occasionally thousands of individuals. They occur in many protected areas including National Parks and appear not to require any further conservation action.
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities
Drainage of habitat
This species shows developmental changes in patterning, with two phases defined in Schiøtz (1999), J (juveniles and many mature males) and F (mature females and some mature males). All newly metamorphosed individuals are phase J, which is normally brownish to green with paired light dorsolateral lines, or an hourglass pattern. All females, and some males, develop into phase F before the first breeding season. Phase F is often colorful and variable, showing the diagnostic color characteristics for the species or subspecies. Either well-defined morphs may be present, or graded variation.
Channing, A. (2001). Amphibians of Central and Southern Africa. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.
Dyson, M.L., Passmore, N.I., Bishop, P.J., and Henzi, S.P. (1992). ''Male behaviour and correlates of male mating success in a population of African Painted Reed Frogs (Hyperolius marmoratus).'' Herpetologica, 48, 236-246.
Minter, L.R., Burger, M., Harrison, J.A., Braack, H.H., Bishop, P.J., and Kloepfer, D. (eds.) (2004). Atlas and Red Data Book of the Frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Volume 9 SI/MAB Series. Smithsonian, Washington D.C..
Schiøtz, A. (1999). Treefrogs of Africa. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt am Main.
Written by Phil Bishop (phil.bishop AT stonebow.otago.ac.nz), University of Otago, New Zealand
First submitted 2004-09-14
Edited by Kellie Whittaker, updated by Michelle S. Koo (2013-02-06)
Citation: AmphibiaWeb: Information on
amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. 2013. Berkeley, California:
(Accessed: Jun 20, 2013).
AmphibiaWeb's policy on data use.