This frog is one of the whistling tree frog group most commonly represented by Litoria verreauxii and Litoria ewengii. As such it looks like a much larger and more robust version of these two frogs (that grow to only 40mm). Females grow to 70 mm and males a little smaller at around 50mm. They are greyish-brown above (darkness depending on the background they have been against) with many darker spots and flecks and a black mask running from the nose to past the eyes and over the eardrum to the shoulder. The belly is cream to pink in colour and there are orange flash markings in the armpits, groin and backs of thighs. As noted before, the Heath Frog is similar in appearance to the Whistling Tree Frogs (Litoria verreauxii and L. ewengii), but is much larger and more robust. It was confused for a very long time with the Jervis Bay Tree Frog (L. jervisiensis) and some more of its apparent rarity may also be due to this confusion (they have very similar calls)- these two species are not hard to tell apart as the Jervis Bay Tree Frog is rather slender frog for its size with a pointyish nose whereas the Heath Frog is robust and has a rather standard rounded nose.
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Australia
The heath frog is probably the least known and most infrequently encountered frog in New South Wales. It was only officially described in 1994, although there had been an attempt to describe the species in 1980, and was listed under the Threatened Species Act of the NPWS only in the last few years. There are records of this species from the coast and adjacent ranges from the Gosford area of NSW south down to the Gippsland area of eastern Victoria. Despite this rather large distribution there are in fact, very few records of this species from NSW and Victoria. The extent of occurrence of the species is approximately 65200 km2. This frog is known only from areas of natural vegetation ranging from sea level to at least 1000m and so has a broad distributional and altitudinal ranges. Heath Frogs are found in dry sclerophyll forest, dry woodlands and heathland. To me in fact, they have a remarkably similar localised distribution to that of the Giant Burrowing Frog (they share many of the same breeding sites in the Watagans) and their may be some important habitat features that both species use. They are not known to occur in substantially modified environments and so may be somewhat intolerant of habitat loss or changes. However, one site they are well known from is the old Darkes Forest Colliery which was obviously subject to some clearing and various types of disturbances and are also known from a number of sites in forestry areas. Hence, they do not appear to be intolerant of any disturbance, as has been suggested, although the actual effects of disturbance still need to be looked at to assist in the long-term conservation of this species.
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
These frogs have a spring calling season that may span the entire year, but is generally considered to be concentrated in the warmer months. However, I have heard it calling most often during the colder months, which is typical of the whistling tree frog group. Some further work on its calling season would be useful. Males call from vegetation above the water, with ponds being the preferred breeding habitat, although they have been recorded from streams. The call is a slowed down version of a whistling tree frog and rattles a bit so comes out as a reeeeeee reeeeeeeee reeeeeeee reeeeeeeeee repeated 6-14 times. The eggs are laid in small clusters attached to submerged vegetation as is the case for other members of this group. One trick regarding finding the Heath Frog is that they have a very sporadic and relatively unpredictable calling habit. Sites can be visited many times under apparently good conditions without this frog being present, only for it to turn up the next time the site is surveyed. Returning to the site the very next night is just as likely to find Heath Frogs have again abandoned the pond. Part of its considered rarity may be due to this unpredictable nature as recording it, even when it is known to be at a site, is very much a matter of very good luck and a lot of effort. The tadpoles may present a better option for surveys.The habits of individuals of this species outside of the breeding season are, as for most Australian frogs, not known. They are not seen at all when not breeding, which suggests quite secretive behaviour, but the lack of observations can just as easily be attributed to their rarity. The rest of the group appear to spend their time in the leaf litter and low shrubs and this may be the same for the Heath Frog. They may however, be more inclined to climb and have well developed suckers on their toes, which would make them hard to find when not breeding. They presumably eat invertebrates, but their diet has not been investigated.
Trends and Threats
Inadequate information on population size or trends.
Protected where its habitat occurs in National Parks.
This description is partially based on information contributed by Frank Lemckert (pers. comm. 2003).
Barker, J., Grigg, G. C., and Tyler, M. J. (1995). A Field Guide to Australian Frogs. Surrey Beatty and Sons, New South Wales.
Originally submitted by: Jean-Marc Hero et. al. (first posted 2002-04-05)
Edited by: Ambika Sopory, Jean-Marc Hero, F. Lemckert (2004-02-08)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2004 Litoria littlejohni: Heath Frog <https://amphibiaweb.org/species/1266> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Dec 11, 2023.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2023. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 11 Dec 2023.
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