• South Africa (Rose’s ghost frog – Table Mountain; Hewitt’s ghost frog – Eastern Cape Province)
  • Ghost frogs belong to a small family of just 6 species that diverged from all other amphibians 160 million years ago – which is around 10 million years before the first bird at a time when dinosaurs were still dominant.
  • They are called ghost frogs because Rose’s ghost frog occurs in Skeleton Gorge in Table Mountain, which was once a location where local people brought the bodies of their dead.
  • They live in cool, fast-flowing mountain streams and possess well-developed pads on their digits for clinging to wet rocks and webbed feet to swim against strong currents. Their torrent-adapted tadpoles cling to the rocks using sucker-like mouth parts to prevent themselves from being swept away.
  • Ghost frogs can spend up to two years in the tadpole phase, developing slowly as a result of the cold, harsh conditions of their stream habitat.
  • Destruction of natural habitat as a result of logging; pine plantations; fires; the construction of water storage reservoirs, dams and roads; soil erosion; stream siltation; the introduction of predatory fish; and intensive ecotourism.
  • The fungal disease chytridiomycosis has been found in some populations of Rose’s ghost frog in recent years and may also be impacting Hewitt’s ghost frog.
  • Climate change.
  • Rose’s ghost frog and Hewitt’s ghost frog are both classified as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because these species are both found within extremely restricted areas that are undergoing habitat destruction as a result of a variety of factors. Their populations are declining due to reduced availability of good habitat and possibly also as a result of chytrid.
Conservation Required
  • Funding an EDGE Fellow to collect more data on the population ecology, behaviour and threats to these species because so little is currently known – this information can then be used to create a Conservation Action Plan.
  • Monitor populations of both Hewitt’s ghost frog and Rose’s ghost frog for chytrid fungus.
  • Protect breeding habitat for these two species by working with local forestry services to manage ghost frog habitat more sustainably for these species and create buffer zones of native vegetation around the streams

Proposed Actions

EDGE aims to protect the breeding habitat of these Critically Endangered frogs, and to monitor populations for chytrid fungus.

There are just six species of ghost frog (those in the genus Heleophryne), two of which, Hewitt's ghost frog and Rose's ghost frog, are classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. These species are nocturnal (or night active) and live in cool, fast-flowing mountain streams. The adults are adapted to their habitat in possessing well-developed pads on their fingers and toes for hanging on to wet rocks, and webbed feet for battling the strong currents. The tadpoles avoid being swept away in fast currents by possessing sucker-like mouth-parts which they use to cling to rocks to avoid being swept away. The cold conditions mean that development is slow – these species can spent up to two years in the tadpole phase of life.

These species are being adversely affected by habitat destruction caused by a number of factors, including logging, pine plantations, soil erosion causing siltation, and intensive ecotourism. The fungal disease chytridiomycosis, which has been implicated for the decline in a staggering number of amphibian species, has also been found in some ghost frog populations, and may be causing declines in these species also. These factors, coupled with the restricted ranges of these two species, make them highly vulnerable to extinction.

EDGE would like to contribute to creating a comprehensive Conservation Action Plan for the Critically Endangered South African ghost frogs by funding an EDGE Fellow to collect more data on the distribution, population ecology, behaviour and threats to these little-known species.

EDGE also aims to monitor populations of both species for chytrid fungus, work with local forestry services to manage remaining habitat sustainably and create buffer zones of native vegetation around streams. We will also investigate the feasibility of establishing a captive breeding programme for the ghost frogs in a South African institution.

More Focal Amphibian species

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Associated Blog Posts
3rd Jun 11
We have recently brought in a new monitoring tool to help devise conservation management actions for Hewitt’s Ghost Frog: a full spectrum diatom analys...  Read

15th Feb 11
The latest update from EDGE Fellow Werner Conradie. Hewitt’s Ghost Frog (Heleophryne hewitti) was considered critically endangered, with a declining pop...  Read

17th Nov 09
Although the origin of the name “Ghost Frog” is unknown, it is believed that it originated because some frogs are found in Skeleton Gorge on Table Mounta...  Read

8th Oct 09
Our EDGE Fellow for the South African ghost frogs, Werner Conradie, has just sent us this fascinating account of how frog calls provide vital clues about wha...  Read

15th Sep 09
Here is an update from Werner Conradie, our EDGE Fellow who is working to develop a robust monitoring regime for Hewitt's ghost frog, working towards a conse...  Read

15th May 09
The second of our Fellows for EDGE amphibian species, Werner Conradie, tells us about the Critically Endangered frogs he is studying in South Africa. As a...  Read