Forget vampires, werewolves, and zombies. What really spooks me isn’t even supernatural. Put simply, frogs are the freakiest. So, as Halloween approaches, the timing is perfect to salute what I would consider the holiday's patron amphibian, the “Freddy Krueger frog.” Below is an excerpt from a piece we ran several years ago by former Audubon editor Les Line reflecting on this slimy character:
I’ve been exposed to countless trailers, posters, and ads in the Friday papers for low-budget and high-gross slasher flicks about Wes Craven’s revoltingly disfigured villain who attacks his teenage victims with a metal-clawed glove. So I can imagine why collectors have dubbed a creepy amphibian from South America “the Freddy Krueger frog.”
Formally known as Budgett’s frog (Lepidobatrachus laevis), this anuran inhabits ephemeral pools that form during summer rains on the semi-arid Gran Chaco of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. Squat and stout with a huge head and an astonishingly wide mouth, it lurks in the reeds like a miniature hippopotamus with only its eyes and nose above water. Eventually large prey—especially other frogs—will come within reach of those powerful jaws. Some frog fanciers call them adorable. Sure, and Freddy in his striped shirt is a sweetheart. They’re big frogs, the females measuring five inches or more in length. And when confronted, they inflate themselves like a balloon, stand on outstretched legs to appear even larger, and scream like a cat in pain. If that doesn’t work, they’ll lunge at an intruder and inflict a nasty wound with fangs on their lower jaws.
When the pozos, or temporary pools, begin to dry up, Budgett’s frogs dig into the soft mud using a shovellike protuberance on their hind legs. A hard shell made from months of unshed skin keeps them moist during the long dry season. The first rains soften the shell and trigger a rush to breed, with females laying 1,400 eggs at a time. Did I mention that Freddy Krueger frogs are cannibals as well as carnivores? Indeed, the tadpoles have adultlike jaws and grow into fat froglets by swallowing their siblings whole. And if you put two Budgett’s adults in an aquarium, don’t be surprised if one of them suddenly disappears.