Leiopelma pakeka
Maud Island Frog
family: Leiopelmatidae

© 2004 David M. Green (1 of 6)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN (Red List) Status Vulnerable (VU)
Other International Status None
National Status Nationally Endangered (Conservation dependent, Recovering, Human Induced, One Location) Hitchmough (2002)
Regional Status None



View distribution map in BerkeleyMapper.

These frogs are very cryptically coloured, relying on camouflage as their main line of defence. Their overall colouration is brown (ranging from light tan to almost black), with black patterning over their backs and faces. They do not have an eardrum, but do have a glandular ridge running along their body from behind the eye. They do not produce loud mating calls, although they can produce a faint squeak when molested. There is no webbing on their feet or hands. They are very similar to Leiopelma hamiltoni and up until recently (Bell et al. 1998) they were thought to be the same species. However, Holyoake et al. (2001) using molecular techniques, found only slight variation between the two taxa and although favor keeping them as one species, they suggest treating them as evolutionarily significant units (ESUs). These frogs look almost identical to Leiopelma hamiltoni but are slightly smaller (about 47 mm SVL). L. pakeka is monomorphic and therefore very difficult to sex.

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: New Zealand


View distribution map in BerkeleyMapper.
This species only occurs naturally on Maud Island in the central Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand. This is a small, relatively sheltered island of 309 hectares of moderate to steep hill country. Maud Island supports a healthy population of around 19,000 Leiopelma pakeka individuals in broadleaf forest. In 1984-1985, individuals were translocated to another site on Maud Island, and in 1997, to Motuara Island, another predator-free island in the Sounds area (Tocher and Newman 1997; Bell et al. 2004).

L. pakeka prefer rocky substrates under a full canopy of native trees (Bell 1995).

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors

These frogs prefer cool misty evenings and are particularly active above ground when the temperature is between 8 and 14C. They show considerable site fidelity and tend to stay with a 5m radius for years at a time, as well as to shelter within specific retreat sites (Bell 1994; Bell 1997; Bell 1978). They are very long lived with some individuals being found thirty years after they were marked; an average life expectancy of 33 years has been calculated (B. D. Bell, pers. comm.; Bell et al. 2004).

They are nocturnal and catch their prey by grabbing it with their mouth as they do not flick their tongues out like many other frogs. Although these frogs have never been observed breeding in the wild, Dr Ben Bell of Victoria University has made some observations from an enclosure in his garden (Bell 2002). He discovered that in captivity frogs lay 1-19 eggs in December in moist depressions under logs, rocks or vegetation. The eggs are guarded by the male and take 14-21 weeks for the eggs to develop. There is no free-swimming tadpole stage and the young climb onto the dorsal surface of the male and continue their development there. During this time they remain fairly inactive.

During tadpole development, the developing forelimbs are large and completely exposed at all larval stages, with only the bases of the forelimb covered by the opercular fold. The L. pakeka tadpole has a ventral mouth but has no oral disc, denticles, or papillae. A large tongue pad is present in the stage 31 embryo. Pigmentation is developed from about stage 33 onwards (Bell and Wassersug 2003).

In 1984-1985, 100 Leiopelma pakeka were translocated in two batches from Maud Island to a new site 0.5 km away, also on Maud Island. Recapture studies nearly 20 years later, in 2003, found 70 of the original 100 individual frogs, plus 35 young recruits into the population. Frogs in the earlier batch settled closer to the release site than did those released a year later (Bell et al. 2004).

In 1997, the first island-to-island translocation of Leiopelma pakeka was carried out, from Maud Island to Motuara Island, which lies 33 km SE in Queen Charlotte Sound (Tocher and Newman 1997; Bell et al. 2004).

Trends and Threats
This species occurs on two isolated islands (Maud Island and Motuara Island) and appears to be stable in population (Bell and Bell 1994). Frogs from the original Maud Island population were translocated in 1984 and again in 1985 to another site also on Maud Island (Boat Bay; Bell et al. 2004). A translocation to a different island (Motuara Island, in Queen Charlotte Sound) was carried out in 1997 (Tocher and Newman 1997; Bell et al. 2004). Despite the Maud Island populations appearing to be stable, the Boat Bay population is small and both the Boat Bay population and the original source Maud Island population have declined in condition over time (Bell et al. 2004). Also, very little genetic variation appears to be present (Bell et al. 1998).

The species remains conservation dependent and strict measures are in place to prevent the spread of any pathogens or predators to the island habitats.

Possible reasons for amphibian decline

General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities
Intensified agriculture or grazing
Habitat fragmentation
Predators (natural or introduced)
Loss of genetic diversity from small population phenomena


Bel, E.A., and Bell, B.D. (1994). ''Local distribution, habitat, and numbers of the endemic terrestrial frog Leiopelma hamiltoni on Maud Island, New Zealand.'' New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 21, 437-442.

Bell, B. D. (1994). ''A review of the status of New Zealand Leiopelma species (Anura: Leiopelmatidae), including a summary of demographic studies in Coromandel and on Maud Island.'' New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 21, 341-349.

Bell, B. D. (1997). ''Demographic profiles of terrestrial Leiopelma (Anura: Leiopelmatidae) on Maud Island and in Coromandel: growth, home-range, longevity, population trends, survivorship, and translocation. Proceedings of the Society for Research on Amphibians and Reptiles in New Zealand, Abstracts.'' New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 24, 323-324.

Bell, B. D. (2002). Experience of captive breeding the four extant Leiopelma species. Unpublished Report to the Native Frog Recovery Group. Department of Conservation, New Zealand.

Bell, B. D., Daugherty, C. H.. and Hay, J. M. (1998). ''Leiopelma pakeka, n. sp. (Anura: Leiopelmatidae), a cryptic species of frog from Maud Island, New Zealand, and a reassessment of the conservation status of L. hamiltoni from Stephens Island.'' Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 28, 39-54.

Bell, B. D., Pledger, S., and Dewhurst, P. L. (2004). ''The fate of a population of the endemic frog Leiopelma pakeka (Anura: Leiopelmatidae) translocated to restored habitat on Maud Island, New Zealand.'' New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 31, 123-131.

Bell, B. D., and Pledger, S. (2001). ''Estimating population trends in the terrestrial and partly subterranean Maud Island frog Leiopelma pakeka.'' New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 28, 361-362.

Bell, B. D., and Wassersug, R. J. (2003). ''Anatomical features of Leiopelma embryos and larvae: implications for anuran evolution.'' Journal of Morphology, 256, 160-170.

Bell, E. (1995). Habitat use, distribution and population dynamics of the Maud Island frog, Leiopelma hamiltoni. Unpublished M. Sc. thesis (Victoria University of Wellington), Wellington, New Zealand.

Hitchmough, R. (2002). New Zealand Threat Classification System lists - 2002. Threatened Species Occasional Publication 23. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Holyoake, A., Waldman, B., and Gemmell, N. (2001). ''Determining the species status of one of the world's rarest frogs: a conservation dilemma.'' Animal Conservation, 4, 29-35.

Pledger, S. (1999). Monitoring Protocols for Motuara Island Frogs Leiopelma pakeka. Unpublished Report. School of Mathematical Computer Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington.

Tocher, M., and Newman, D. (1997). ''Leaps and bounds.'' Forest and Bird, 285, 14-20.

Written by Phil Bishop (phil.bishop AT, University of Otago
First submitted 2004-09-15
Edited by Kellie Whittaker (2008-12-08)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2008 Leiopelma pakeka: Maud Island Frog <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Sep 23, 2020.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2020. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 23 Sep 2020.

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