AmphibiaWeb - Breviceps adspersus


(Translations may not be accurate.)

Breviceps adspersus Peters, 1882
Common rain frog, Isinana sasehlathinia (Zulu)
family: Brevicipitidae
genus: Breviceps
Species Description: Peters, W. C. H. 1882. Naturwissenschaftlich Reise nach Mossambique auf befehl Seiner Mäjestat des Königs Friedrich Wilhelm IV in den Jahren 1842 bis 1848 ausgeführt. Zoologie 3 (Amphibien). Berlin: G. Reimer.
Breviceps adspersus
© 2010 Division of Herpetology, University of Kansas (1 of 9)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN Red List Status Account Least Concern (LC)
National Status None
Regional Status None


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Breviceps adspersus are small, rotund, globular frogs. Males have a snout-vent length of up to 47 mm and females have a snout-vent length of up to 60 mm (Channing 2001). Their snouts are small and flat with a downturned mouth. The pupils are horizontal. The tympanum typically is not visible. The limbs are stout, with turned-in anterior hands. Palmar tubercles are moderately to well developed and the basal subarticular tubercles are single. The inner and outer toes are not noticeably longer than they are wide, and they uses their large, flattened inner metatarsal tubercle for digging backward into the soil (Passmore and Carruthers 1995). The dorsal texture varies from rough with granules to smooth. The ventral texture is typically smooth, with a posteriorly facing cloaca, as opposed to the more typical ventrally facing cloaca (Channing 2001, du Preez 2017).

Breviceps adspersus is the shortest-toed species in the genus (Poynton and Pritchard 1976). Its unmarked, white venter also distinguishes this species from other members of the genus (du Preez 2017). Unlike B. verrucosus and B. acutirostris, B. adspersus has no visible tympanum. Its two isolated black longitudinal patches differentiate it from the uniformly darkened throat of B. mossambicus. Breviceps adspersus has an outer toe length that is equal to its width, which is distinct from the tiny outer toe of B. poweri (Channing 2001). Behaviorally, this species is found in brush, grasslands, and more open areas, avoiding closed forests, which most other Breviceps species prefer (Poynton and Pritchard 1976).

In life, the background body color ranges from light to dark brown. Breviceps adspersus has rows of lighter yellowish or orange patches on either side of the vertebral column and the sides. (du Preez 2017). A broad black stripe runs from the eye to the armpit. Sometimes dark speckles and spots are present, as is a narrow, light vertebral stripe and a light line extending from the heels on both legs. The belly has mottled white spots on a typically brown background. While all females have a mottled throat, males may have either a totally black or a mottled throat, which may be divided by a black stripe. The venter is white, with no markings (Passmore and Carruthers 1995).

Males have a snout-vent length of up to 47 mm and females have a snout-vent length of up to 60 mm (Channing 2001). Sexual dimorphism is also present in the throat coloration of B. adspersus specimens, with males having mottled or fully black throats and females lacking any coloration (du Preez 2017).

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe

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The species is distributed widely in southern Africa, typically in the savanna (du Preez 2017). Unlike other members of Breviceps, this species avoids closed forests, but can be found in brush. It doesn’t shy away from open areas and grasslands, being protected in its burrow. It can be found in coastal dunes and suburban gardens (Poynton and Pritchard 1976). Elevational distribution is quite broad, with members of the species being found at sea level (in dune burrows) and other populations in montane forests (du Preez 2017).

In South Africa, it is found along the hot, dry foothills of the northeastern escarpment, and is absent from the higher slopes and crests of the mountains. In the northern part of the its South African range, it usually occurs in dry bushveld (Passmore and Carruthers 1995).

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Breviceps are fossorial frogs, surfacing only to eat and mate (Minter 1995).

Burrows may be longer and deeper than others in the genus (Poynton and Pritchard 1976). Burrows are constructed by using the hind limbs to dig into the substrate, reaching depths up to 30 cm for the egg clutch and 20 cm during the winter season (Barnes 2016).

Mating occurs during the rainy season, which depends on the locality, when males begin to call following rain (Minter 1995).

Breviceps adsperus produces its mating call in their burrows or at the base of plants. At nightfall, males move to a location that is roughly a meter away from their burrows in depressions within the ground. The 2 kHz-frequency call is a short chirp that lasts 0.1 seconds and is repeated rapidly in groups of three (Channing 2001).

Call groups gain in calls per minute as the number of group members increases. There is also a negative correlation between the call rate and temperature (Minter 1995). Vocalizations are fairly static in B. adspersus, with frequency modulations weakly developed. Males tend to occupy a fixed call site and rarely move, calling the female to them. Calling follows a series of steps with the male making calls from inside the burrow, at the mouth of the burrow, and finally outside the burrow, while moving and looking for a mate (Poynton and Pritchard 1976).

When courtship is completed the male mounts the female, but unlike most species of frogs, there is no grasping of the female. In B. adspersus, the male and female secrete a sticky substance, which allows the male to stick to the back of the female. This substance is secreted by both sexes for defense, and it is unclear who is producing it for amplexus (Kakehashi et al. 2021). This unusual form of amplexus is due to the spherical body shape, relatively short arms, and the size difference between the two sexes, making grasping behaviors difficult to occur.

Eggs are laid underground in clutches of about 45. One of the parents, typically the mother, stays in the vicinity of the egg mass until metamorphosis is complete (du Preez 2017).

Their diet consists mainly of termites, with ants eaten occasionally (Barnes 2016).

Breviceps adspersus is predated on by the jackal (Canis mesomelas), the thrush (Tardus olivaecus), and the ibis (Bostrychia hagedash), the last of which hunts for the frogs by probing its long beak underground (Channing 2001).

Breviceps adspersus and B. mossambicus are known to hybridize, which has led to confusion about the two species’ distribution ranges (IUCN 2013).

This is a direct-developing species with eggs laid in subterranean burrows (Poynton and Pritchard 1976).

Trends and Threats
Breviceps adspersus is a common species with a wide distribution and large population that is adaptable to a wide range of habitats. As such, there are no significant known threats to the species. The species is also found in many protected areas (IUCN 2013).

Possible reasons for amphibian decline

Local pesticides, fertilizers, and pollutants
Long-distance pesticides, toxins, and pollutants
Intentional mortality (over-harvesting, pet trade or collecting)


Optimized Maximum Likelihood and Bayesian Inference trees were use to analyze partial sequences of the 12S, 16S ribosomal rRNA genes, and RAG1, BDNF, and SLC8A3 nuclear genes. These analyses determined that B. adspersus was most closely related to B. mossambicus, within Afrobatrachia and sister to Microhylidae (Nielsen et al. 2016). This was supported by an additional study in 2020 (Hemmi et al. 2020). Dating analyses show that the rise of the diversity seen within Breviceptidae arose during the Miocene, likely due to climatic and topographic changes that occurred then. This rise was impeded by ongoing climate shifts during the Plio-Pleistocene, leading to the diversity seen today (Nielsen et al. 2016).

As of 2020, B. adspersus has the largest mitochondrial genome studied due to replications in the genome at key locations (Hemmi et al. 2020).

The species epithet, “adspersus,” is Latin for “sprinkled”, in reference to the mottled dorsal coloration (Channing 2001).

Barnes, K. (2016). Animals of Kruger National Park. Princeton University Press.

Channing, A. (2001). Rain Frogs, Rubber Frogs—Family Microhylidae. In Amphibians of Central and Southern Africa (pp. 209–236). Cornell University Press. [link]

du Preez, L. (2017). Frogs of Southern Africa–A complete guide. Penguin Random House South Africa. Hemmi, K., Kakehashi, R., Kambayashi, C., Du Preez, L., Minter, L., Furuno, N. and Kurabayashi, A. (2020). Exceptional enlargement of the mitochondrial genome results from distinct causes in different rain frogs (Anura: Brevicipitidae: Breviceps). International Journal of Genomics, 2020, 6540343 [link]

IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group. 2013. Breviceps adspersus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T57712A3061969. Accessed on 29 September 2023.

Minter, L. R. (1995). The advertisement call and other aspects of the reproductive biology of Breviceps adspersus Peters (Anura, Microhylidae). Madoqua, 1995(1), 37–44. [link]

Nielsen, S. V., Daniels, S. R., Conradie, W., Heinicke, M. P. and Noonan, B. P. (2018). Multilocus phylogenetics in a widespread African anuran lineage (Brevicipitidae: Breviceps) reveals patterns of diversity reflecting geoclimatic change. Journal of Biogeography, 45(9), 2067–2079. [link]

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

Phaka, F.M., Netherlands, E.C., Kruger, D.J.D., Du Preez, L.H. (2019). Folk taxonomy and indigenous names for frogs in Zululand, South Africa. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 15, 17. [9184] [link]

Poynton, J. C. and Pritchard, S. (1976). Notes on the biology of Breviceps (Anura: Microhylidae). African Zoology, 11(2), 313-318. [link]

Originally submitted by: Franziska Sandmeier (first posted 2001-03-19)
Description by: Logan Qualls, Sophie dela Cruz (updated 2024-02-26)
Distribution by: Logan Qualls (updated 2024-02-26)
Life history by: Logan Qualls, Sophie dela Cruz (updated 2024-02-26)
Larva by: Logan Qualls (updated 2024-02-26)
Trends and threats by: Logan Qualls (updated 2024-02-26)
Comments by: Logan Qualls, Sophie dela Cruz (updated 2024-02-26)

Edited by: Vance T. Vredenburg, Ann T. Chang, Sophie dela Cruz (2024-02-26)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2024 Breviceps adspersus: Common rain frog <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Jul 21, 2024.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2024. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 21 Jul 2024.

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