The Giant Ditch Frog: Eaten To Extinction … Almost

Ever heard of a Mountain Chicken? Nope … it is not a bird.  Would you believe me if I told you it was a type of amphibian?  Seriously –  it is!

The Mountain Chicken, also known as the Giant Ditch Frog (Leptodactylus fallax) is a HUGE frog that lives on the islands of Dominica and Montserrat.  At just over 6 inches in length, it is one of the largest frogs in the world!

It used to be found on several more islands including Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Kitts and Nevis … but populations of this frog have unfortunately disappeared completely from these islands. As of 1999, the species range had decreased to a mere 17 square kilometer area on Montserrat.

This species of frog was actually hunted and harvested for human consumption in vast quantities, giving rise to the nickname “mountain chicken.”

The island of Dominica used to have an estimated harvest of 8,000 to 36,000 animals per year.  The good news however is that since 2007, the consumption of the mountain chicken has been discouraged in Montserrat because of it’s decreasing population numbers – let’s hope this helps!

Did you hear the collective sigh of relief from the mountain chickens? I sure did!

The population has declined an astonishing 80% in the last ten years.

Scary eh?

It has declined so much that this species is now critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The population is estimated to be be a mere 8000 individuals.  Are we too late to help? Are we too late to prevent the permanent loss of yet another species from our planet?

I hope not.

So what exactly is killing off this massive amphibian at such an incredible and scary rate?

Probably the biggest threats to the overall survival of this frog is in fact, human consumption.

Unfortunately, the common amphibian fungal disease chytridiomycosis has also had a devastating and dramatic effect on the total population (as it has throughout the world). It turns out that chytrid was recently introduced onto the island of Montserrat through a different frog species on bananas imported from Dominica. It has completely wiped out all but the two remaining populations on Montserrat.

But there is something else that is believed to have had a significant impact on the populations as well. Volcanic eruptions that began in 1995 and have impacted the habitat on Montserrat with lava flows, highly acid rain, toxic gases, and volcanic ashfall – all of which killed many newly metamorphed froglets. No froglets = no future breeders = no population increase to make up for those being lost.  The debate continue though as to how significant of an impact the volcanoes have had.

Since January 1998, monitoring has been conducted on the island regularly by the Montserrat Forestry and Environment Division, in conjunction with the organization Fauna and Flora International.  This amazing video shows us the work they do and the encouraging progress being made to help re-establish the mountain chicken.

Let’s see what happens … hopefully the news is good at the end of the day for the mountain chicken.

By Candace,


About Candace M Hansen

Wildlife advocate, conservationist and environmentalist.
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