4 species in 1 genus
Commonly Called Tailed Frogs, New Zealand Frogs
Photo by David Green
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One of the more primitive of the living frog families, it shares many features generally thought to be inherited from the common ancestor of Leiopelmatidae and the Tailed Frogs (Family Ascaphidae) of western North America. These are medium-sized frogs with vertical pupils, broad heads, and smooth skin on the soles of their feet. The family includes four living species in the genus Leiopelma, which is endemic to New Zealand and the only native frog. However, these currently are found only in relictual populations on coastal islands. Some fossils are known, as early as the Early Miocene (16-19 ma), but many are from the Holocene (roughly 10,000 years ago to the present) on the mainland; these probably went extinct about 1000 years ago. One of the largest fossil species is Leiopelma waitomoensis, which reached 100 mm snout-vent length compared to extant species, which reach a maximum of 50 mm snout-vent length.
Adults guard their clutches of direct-developing eggs. Young of L. hamiltoni and L. archeyi climb onto the backs of parents to complete their development. Leiopelmatids are nocturnal and catch their prey by lunging at it, as they do not have protrusible tongues (unlike most frogs). They also use alternating kicks when swimming (unlike most frogs). This family does not vocalize, but frogs are known to squeak when molested.
Ascaphus and Leiopelma share many primitive characters, and there are apparently no derived characters that unite them as closest relatives. However, DNA analysis consistently place Ascaphidae and Leiopelmatidae as closest relatives.
Three of the four species are listed as either Critically Endangered or Vulnerable by IUCN. New Zealand Threat Classification System lists three to be 'Threatened' (Leiopelma hamiltoni as 'Nationally Critical', and L. pakeka and L. archeyi as 'Nationally Vulnerable') and one 'At Risk' (L. hochstetteri as 'Declining').Written by AmphibiaWeb
Notable Family Characteristics
- Cool forest creeks, streams, open seeps and ridges
- Terrestrial or semi-aquatic
- Inguinal amplexus
- Internal fertilization
- Unusually eggs are laid in damp undergrowth where they hatch into froglets. The male (Leiopelma hamiltoni and L. archeyi) may attend to the eggs until they hatch into froglets, which with tail still present, climb up on the male's back for the remainder of development; parental care seems absent in Leiopelma hochstetteri, where the larvae move into nearby water after hatching without parental involvement
- These frogs possess: 1) inscriptional ribs (cartilage embedded within abdominal muscle); 2) nine presacral vertebrae (as in Ascaphidae); 3) retention of caudalipuboischiotibialis ("tail-wagging") muscles (as in Ascaphidae). Other features: vertical pupils, broad heads, smooth-skinned soles on their feet, lack protrusible tongues
- Distribution limited to New Zealand
Newman, D G, B D Bell, P J Bishop, R Burns, A Haigh, R A Hitchmough and M Tocher. 2010. Conservation status of New Zealand frogs, 2009, New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 37:2, 121-130, DOI: 10.1080/03014221003685856
Pough, F. H., R. M. Andrews, M. L. Crump, A. H. Savitzky, K. D. Wells, and M. C. Brandley. 2015. Herpetology. Fourth Edition. Massachusetts: Sinauer.
Vitt, L. J., and J. P. Caldwell. 2013. Herpetology. An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. Fourth Edition. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Genus Leiopelma (4 species)
Leiopelma archeyi AmphibiaWeb account photos no sound/video Leiopelma hamiltoni AmphibiaWeb account photos no sound/video Leiopelma hochstetteri AmphibiaWeb account photos no sound/video Leiopelma pakeka AmphibiaWeb account photos no sound/video
Citation: AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: https://amphibiaweb.org/. (Accessed:
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