Giant extinct frog ate small dinosaurs, bite force research suggests

To estimate the bite force of the ancient giant frog Beelzebufo, researchers measured the bite of South American horned frogs using a custom transducer. Photo by A. Kristopher Lappin, et al./Scientific Reports

Sept. 21 (UPI) — Researchers say Beelzebufo, an extinct frog from Madagascar, was capable of eating small dinosaurs during its heyday some 68 million years ago.

The revelation — shared this week in the journal Scientific Reports — comes from a study analyzing the biting prowess of South American horned frogs, a group of amphibians boasting a large, round, Pac-Man-like mouth.

South American horned frogs belong to the Ceratophrys genus, and are the closest living relatives of Beelzebufo ampinga.

“Unlike the vast majority of frogs which have weak jaws and typically consume small prey, horned frogs ambush animals as large as themselves — including other frogs, snakes, and rodents,” Marc Jones, researcher at the University of Adelaide, said in a news release. “And their powerful jaws play a critical role in grabbing and subduing the prey.”

Bite force sensors suggest small horned frogs, with heads measuring 2 inches wide, can chomp down with a force of 30 Newtowns, or 6.6 pounds. Researchers used a scaling model to estimate the bite force of larger horned frogs and found those with a head width closer to 5 inches could generate a bite force of nearly 500 Newtons.

“This would feel like having 50 liters of water balanced on your fingertip,” said Kristopher Lappin, professor of biological sciences at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

The scaling model predicted the giant extinct frog Beelzebufo could generate a biting force of roughly 2,200 Newtons, comparable to the bite of a wolf or female tiger.

“At this bite force, Beelzebufo would have been capable of subduing the small and juvenile dinosaurs that shared its environment,” said Jones.

Researchers designed and built a custom bite force device using a transducer, a pair of leather-covered plates designed to absorb the force of an animal’s jaws.

“This is the first time bite force has been measured in a frog,” said Lappin. “And, speaking from experience, horned frogs have quite an impressive bite, and they tend not to let go. The bite of a large Beelzebufo would have been remarkable, definitely not something I would want to experience firsthand.”


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