Backyard Buddies
Ornate Burrowing Frog

Photo: Ursula Skjonnemand

Ornate Burrowing Frog

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If you live in sandy areas in northern and eastern Australia, keep your eye out for a small, pudgy frog with brown colouring and markings.

The Ornate Burrowing Frog, Platyplectrum ornatum, grows no larger than 50mm and is often mistaken for small Cane Toads. These frogs are generally active after heavy rain during spring and summer. Warm humid nights are a good time to find foraging adults.

Ornate Burrowing Frogs feed on all the invertebrates found in leaf litter, garden mulch or compost heaps, from ants to worms, slaters, beetles and even other small frogs. It is in these cool moist places in your garden that you will find them.

Ornate Burrowing Frogs burrow during dry or cold times. They occur in a wide range of habitats from the coast to central arid environments.

Their feet have special hardened plates known as tubercles that they use like a shovel to help them dig their burrows. They burrow backwards at an angle giving them the name 'backwards-sliding burrower'.

Breeding occurs only after heavy rain and breeding sites can range from puddles to large dams. Males will call with a fast 'unk', while floating in still water. Females lay up to 1,600 eggs in a small, dome shaped foam mass they create by slapping their hands down on the surface of the water to catch air bubbles (the male hangs on her back the whole time). The mass collapses within hours into a single floating film layer of eggs and jelly.

The Ornate Burrowing Frog has a varying rate of metamorphosis ranging from around 20 to 90 days depending on the local environmental conditions. Tadpoles may develop quickly if they are in small water pools - ideally, they are ready to leave the water by the time the water pool dries up.

If you live in the right climate, these frogs will live happily in suburban areas so put in a ground pond to attract them to your backyard.

Did you know? 

These frogs can drown in swimming pools as they have no way to climb out. A hinged wooden platform which extends into the water can help these and any other ground frogs to get out of your pool.


Be careful when gardening as you may dig up a little frog. You can rebury it, and the frog will be fine. Avoid touching or taking tadpoles or frogs from ponds, temporary water sources, puddles and so on, as doing so can spread diseases between different frog populations.

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Photo: OEH