Tiny Tanami toadlet call captured for the first time

By Elisabeth Marie 21 May 2024
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The call of a tiny, desert-dwelling frog named the Tanami toadlet (Uperoleia micromeles) has been recorded for the first time.

Wildlife ecologists from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) made the recording while in the field at the Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in Central Australia after a week of record-breaking rains inundated parts of the Northern Territory in March this year.

Heavy rains like these can trigger a surge in wildlife activity, prompting frogs into a frenzy of courtship and breeding, making them easier to detect.

Hear the call of the Tanami toadlet

Dr Tim Henderson, AWC Wildlife Ecologist at Newhaven, who captured the above audio, said the team visited one of the claypan lakes at the sanctuary after the rains to look for frogs and see if they could track down the Tanami toadlet.

“The lake was extremely full at the time, and while we were there, we heard lots of frogs calling. The calls were distinctive, and unlike any other species we find out here regularly, so we suspected it could be the toadlet,” Dr Henderson said.

“We were eventually able to pinpoint the calls through the undergrowth to locate these little frogs, which matched the description for Tanami toadlets.

“They appear to only emerge after significant rainfall, and call for a very short time to look for mates – there was probably less than a week after they emerged that they stopped calling, so we were very fortunate to encounter them during such a short space of time.”

An aerial view of a body of water in the Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary
Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary’s landscape was replenished after heavy rains. Image credit: Aliesha Dodson

Dr Henderson was able to confirm that the call belonged to the Tanami toadlet using the Australian Museum’s FrogID app.

FrogID is a national citizen science initiative that enables smartphone users to record frog calls using the free app. Experts then verify recordings to provide scientific data on Australia’s frog populations to help aid conservation efforts.

Related: 20 Aussie frogs you need to know about

First identified by scientists in 1981, little is known about the Tanami toadlet.

The tiny frog grows to just four centimetres and is found in the Tanami and Great Sandy Deserts in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It’s one of 28 small, inconspicuous frog species in the genus Uperoleia, commonly known as toadlets because of their bumpy skin, even though they are not closely related to toads.

Dr Jodi Rowley, Lead Scientist of FrogID and Curator of Amphibians at the Australian Museum, said she was thrilled to confirm the toadlet’s call.

“It’s taken 43 years since we first recognised this species for someone to record its call – that’s pretty amazing! There’s still so much to discover about Australian amphibians, and this recording will make it easier for other people to detect Tanami toadlets in the future.”