Northern barred frog is one of the Daintree's burrowing frogs

Published on: 26/02/19

Boofy frog choir in the Daintree

Prefer to listen? Podcast available – here.

We heard it again just the other night. Starting distantly, almost imperceptibly, with a steady build-up outside that slowly invaded our space, until it seemed to be right there in our living room. It was unforgettable, and is one of the great sound experiences around Cape Tribulation in the Daintree National Park.

What are some of your special sound memories? An orchestral performance in the Sydney Opera House? The song of a humpback whale? The rustle of palms in the breeze? How about a lawnmower engine at 8am on a Sunday morning. Maybe, its not beautiful, but certainly unforgettable.

For me, there’s one sound that’s right up there with the others and its the sound of a frog mob – a frog chorus, a sort of frog vocal extremism. Its sound on the edge!

Frog chorus? frog song? or boofy frog cacophony? Take your pick! They’re all a part of the frog sound spectrum, but its the genuine full chorus that gives the extra magic.

Let me tell you about our Daintree Frog choruses, and some of our special frogs.

Northern barred frog on the Daintree rainforest floor
Northern barred frog

Some of our frogs bellow and croak like big, boofy Rugby choirs after midnight– loud, enthusiastic and often out of tune. More grog than frog!

(With apologies to the Welsh – Welsh Rugby voices are boofy but actually very tuneful).
Other frog sounds are more subdued, contributing their own clicks, squeaks, gentle low-pitched booms, croaks and w’hhrrrs .

Its only the male frogs that call out, using inflatable vocal sacs to magnify the sound. They call either to lustfully attract females or to warn off other males.

The sound often starts out as a solo, then competitors and different species might join in, each in their own key and rhythm of course, adding their personality to the general cacophony. It’s noisy, complex, but definitely not yet a chorus.

Just occasionally, and this is the truly special part, it seems that they come under the spell of a jungle conductor.

The frogs slowly start to synchronise their calls, with rising rhythmic intensity, until out of this choral chaos comes a harmonious crescendo.

And then it starts all over again.
They remind me of endless rolling ocean waves. Each distant wave creeping steadily into sight, following but not catching up with the one in front. Then, close to shore, each wave breaks in foaming fury, leaving… nothing. Then the next wave takes over and….repeats the process.
Except the frog build up is quite a bit slower – about a minute or so.

The big mystery to me is how did the conductor manage to synchronise all those voices in the first place, and how on earth did she manage to get the boys to stop exactly on cue??

When’s the best time to hear the frog and forest sounds? Right now, in the Wet season! Because it’s the major breeding time for most of our animals.

Surface water has built up in the swamps and low lands; the rain has paused and heat increased, so there’s more growth all round. Eating and breeding habitats for many creatures become much richer.

At the tiny end of the food chain, creatures such as crickets, katydids, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, cicadas, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, beetles, geckos and skinks all proliferate.

And further up the food chain, their predators are also in greater numbers – birds, reptiles and, of course, the amphibians – our amphibious friends, the frog!!

A Bit about our Australian Frogs

To give you an impression of how healthy the frog scene is here in the Daintree, I’d like to give you a few few frog statistics.
Australian has over 220 frog species at last count and the Wet Tropics is host to a staggering 54 native species – and 22 of our local species are endemic and found nowhere else in Australia.In total, there are five families of frogs native to Australia and all five are represented here in the Daintree rainforest, just two hours drive north of Cairns. The five are:

Broad-palmed rocket frog, medium sized tree frog but now land-based
Broad-palmed rocket frog, a land-based tree frog
  • tree-frogs and their relatives (Hylidae)
  • Australian ground frogs ( Limnodynastidae)
  • Australian water-frogs(Myobatrachidae)
  • Narrow-mouthed frogs (Microhylidae)
  • True frogs (Ranidae)

Three frog Species around the Daintree

When you’re out and about, if you look around a bit, you have a good chance of spotting a few frogs yourself – at night, in wet weather, when its warmer or around the gardens and buildings where you’re staying.

Of all our fascinating frogs, I thought I’d describe just three, partly because they could be the ones you’re most likely to spot for yourself, because they’re quite common and because they’re also big and boofy.

Camouflaged White-lipped green tree frog hiding on a paperbark (melaleuca) tree
Camouflaged White-lipped green tree frog

Our White-lipped Green Treefrog (or Litoria infrafrenata) at 140mm is the largest native frog in Australia and is one of the largest treefrogs in the world. Its bright green colour and wide and white lower lip are absolute give-aways, although its a master of camouflage. Ive seen them so brown and blotchy-pink that I sent photos to the Queensland Museum asking if they thought it was a new species. Sadly for me and posterity, they said it was just well camouflaged.

It climbs and jumps really well and you can often see it around buildings because it just loves eating insects, and of course insects are very attracted to night lights. Very convenient for frog spotting day or night.
The call is a repeated bark, interspersed with a double -bark, and it’s one of the common wet season frog calls. When distressed, its been described as cat-like mewing sound

At the lower end of the garden is the incredibly beautiful Northern Barred frog (Mixophyes schevilli). It’s not a treefrog, but a terrestrial ground dweller, and one of the burrowing frogs. It’s often well hidden among the leaves and debris—usually close to the water. It’s active at night, and ambushes invertebrates, small reptiles, or other frogs in fact.

It’s also large, at 130mm, with a striking smooth skin and a leafy-brown colour. Like all the barred frogs they have distinct bars or bands running across their legs. Those powerful striped legs also make them good jumpers.

By the way, the tadpole of the Northern barred frog is the largest of all Australian tadpoles.
At 160mm, its even longer than the adult frog itself. That’s a monster tadpole. It certainly makes it boofy, but still beautiful in its own special way.
The male adult call has various sounds and is most often described as a deep “warrk” to “qwarrk” , repeated at reasonably regular intervals.

A cluster of Cane toadlets hiding in a rocky crevice at Bloomfield falls
A cluster of Cane toadlets at Bloomfield Falls

And finally, the boofiest of all, the Cane Toad or Bufo marinus. They often grow up to 380mm, and some are monstrous, with enormous mass. As warty and dry-skinned as a Ryebuck (“rummy”) shearer, they must only seem beautiful to their Mum – or a Rugby choir. The male call is a quite high pitched constantly rattling “purr”

The cane toad is the only true toad in Australia, but it’s not a native. It was introduced back in 1935 to do a job on sugar cane beetles, but its now much more than a pest. It’s stayed, spread and bred.
And they sure breed prolifically, as they keep extending their range around Australia and evolving on the hop as it were. Unfortunately, the adults have huge toxic glands behind their heads, which has killed a lot of our native wildlife. They’re a legitimate threat to the survival of some of our native species. There’s at least on record of a small croc being killed by ingesting a cane toad, but generally it is the smaller animals that are most at risk.

Apart from our rich frog life, the Daintree is always a sensational where you can immerse yourself in its sights and start to solve some of its mysteries yourself. And that means staying over for a few nights.

And while you’re here, think about a D’Arcy of Daintree Tour up The Bloomfield Track. Enjoy huge landscapes, Indigenous culture, and whatever flora and fauna is on display. Who knows, we may even come across a cane toad.

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