Unusual and rare: the Taita Hills Warty Frog

The Taita Hills Warty Frog does not go through a tadpole stage like most other frogs. The frog’s eggs directly hatch into froglets morphologically similar to the adults, skipping the tadpole stage! This distinct reproductive cycle eliminates the need for a moist or watery substrate to deposit the eggs. And unlike most other frogs, the Taita Hills Warty Frog prefers walking to jumping.

The Taita Hills Warty Frog (Callulina dawida) only occurs in the indigenous forest fragments in the Taita Hills. This unique little frog is classified as Critically Endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species due to the fragmentation of its habitat. The frog population is scattered in the isolated Taita hills forest patches. Unfortunately, these patches are facing degradation due to human activity, such as logging and planting exotic trees. The survival of this endemic amphibian hangs in the balance as a result.

Scientific evidence indicates that the Taita Hills Warty Frog thrives on the indigenous forest floor and spends much of its time in soil or leaf litter. The frog’s permeable skin that absorbs water and oxygen makes it well suited for the indigenous forest environment, making these habitats vital for its survival.

In January 2023, a team of researchers comprising members of the Kenya Herpetofauna Working Group (KHWG) conducted searches and surveys in Ngangao, Ndivenyi, Chawia, and Fururru forest blocks to understand the distribution of the Taita Hills Warty Frog. During the five-day sampling exercise, the team recorded seven Taita Hills Warty Frogs, including a gravid female with approximately 30 eggs. The team also came across a female frog sitting on her eggs.

A notable new red colour variation of the species was also observed by the researchers. This differed from the dark silver appearance recorded in the past.

The visit to Taita hills was part of a project supported by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund that seeks to enhance the protection of the Taita Hills Warty frog habitat through community participation and education. Working with the Dawida Biodiversity Conservation (DaBiCo) Community-based Organization, the researchers conducted community meetings at Ngangao to inform the community on the linkage between the unusual frog and the indigenous forests. More than 300 trees were also planted at a local school during the community engagements.

The researchers plan to continue engaging communities and other stakeholders in monitoring the Taita Hills Warty Frogs.