Ancient "devil frog" may have eaten baby dinosaurs
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It was the biggest, baddest, meanest froggy ever to have hopped on Earth.
Scientists on Monday announced the discovery in northwestern Madagascar of a bulky amphibian dubbed the "devil frog" that lived 65 million to 70 million years ago and was so nasty it may have eaten newborn dinosaurs.
This brute was larger than any frog living today and may be the biggest frog ever to have existed, according to paleontologist David Krause of Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, one of the scientists who found the remains.
Its name, Beelzebufo ampinga, came from Beelzebub, the Greek for devil, and bufo -- Latin for toad. Ampinga means "shield," named for an armor-like part of its anatomy.
Beelzebufo (pronounced bee-el-zeh-BOOF-oh) was 16 inches
long and weighed an estimated 10 pounds (4.5 kg).
It was powerfully built and possessed a very wide mouth and powerful jaws. It probably didn't dine daintily.
"It's not outside the realm of possibility that Beelzebufo took down lizards and mammals and smaller frogs, and even -- considering its size -- possibly hatchling dinosaurs," Krause said in a telephone interview.
"It would have been quite mean," added paleontologist Susan Evans of University College London, another of the scientists.
Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Even though it lived far away, Beelzebufo appears to be closely related to a group of frogs that live today in South America, the scientists said. They are nicknamed "Pac-Man" frogs due to their huge mouths. Some have little horns on their heads, and the scientists think Beelzebufo also may have had horns -- a fitting touch for the "devil frog."
Beelzebufo was bigger than any of its South American kin or any other living frog -- "as if it was on steroids," Krause said. The largest one today is the goliath frog of West Africa, up to 12.5 inches long and 7.2 pounds (3.3 kg).
The presence of Beelzebufo in Madagascar and its modern relatives in South America is the latest sign a long-lost land bridge once may have linked Madagascar to Antarctica -- much warmer then -- and South America, the scientists said.
That would have let animals move overland among those land masses. Fossils have been found of other animals in Madagascar from Beelzebufo's time similar to South American ones.
KING OF FROGS
The first frogs appeared about 180 million years ago, and their basic body plan has remained unchanged. Beelzebufo lived during the Cretaceous Period at the end of the age of dinosaurs, which went extinct along with many other types of animals 65 million years ago when a huge space rock clobbered Earth.
Beelzebufo did not live an aquatic lifestyle, hopping among lily pads, the scientists said. Instead, it lived in a semi-arid environment and may have hunted like its modern-day relatives, which camouflage themselves and jump out at prey.
Its first fragmentary fossils were found in 1993, and the scientists have since assembled enough fragments to piece its remains together like a jigsaw puzzle, Krause said.
While it was the king of frogs, Beelzebufo is not the largest amphibian ever to have lived. Many reached truly astounding dimensions, such as the crocodile-like Prionosuchus that grew to an estimated 30 feet during the Permian Period, which ended about 250 million years ago.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)