TMNP's fascinating amphibians

2012-11-02 15:54

Most people wouldn't associate Table Mountain National Park with wildlife, but a recent weekend adventure to Boulders Beach, Cape Point in the Cape of Good Hope and Slangkoppunt Tented Camp revealed that the vibrant park - spanning much of the Cape Peninsula - is home to a whole array of fascinating creatures. 

So, while the awwww!-kward penguins at Boulders Beach and the havoc-wreaking baboons all along the coast may be familiar sights, ostriches and Eland roaming the white sands around Cape Point could come as a bit of a surprise and so would the herd of Mountain Zebra that recently welcomed their first foal in nine years. 

However, of all the creatures that inhabit the area, the motley collection of endangered toads and frogs definitely takes the cake for being the most intriguing. 

Sadly, due to dwindling numbers and shrinking habitat, spotting any of these fascinating amphibians is close to impossible, which has inspired the Cape of Good Hope section of the park to launch marine walks where visitors can find out more about, among others, the Table Mountain Ghost Frog, Rose's Mountain Frog, the Leopard toad and the Cape Platanna. 

While each of these is interesting in its own right, Rose's Mountain Toad and the Platanna really captured our imagination and here's why.

Rose's Mountain Toad: tragically romantic 

Photo: Buckingham Birding

Imagine a toad that never makes a sound. A toad that is unable to join the puddle-and-reed chorus when the sun starts to set and the stars to shine. A toad that can't even let out a croak of surprise when an unexpected otter comes across its path. And to make matters worse, it has never heard single sound in all its life. 

Welcome to the rather dismal world of Rose's Mountain Toad. 

Since calling plays such an important role for most other amphibian species in, among other things, finding a suitable mate, and considering the fact that there are only two Rose's breeding populations left in the Table Mountain area, there is something tragically romantic about this toad's situation. How will they ever find each other in this big, big world?! 

And just when you thought it couldn't get any more gloomy, these unfortunate little critters like to breed in water that could barely pass for a rain puddle, water often dries up before tadpoles can grow any legs, nevermind reach maturity. 

Because of these complicated factors, Table Mountain National Park is hoping to start work on a closely monitored breeding program sometime next year. 

Platannas: old-fashioned pregnancy test 

Photo: Wikipedia

Named for their characteristically flat form, Platannas (aka African Clawed Frogs) are native to Sub-Saharan Africa and divided into 20 different species. In South Africa, the Common Platanna is found in ponds, pools and puddles right across the country, while the Table Mountain range is home to the much rarer Cape Platanna. Sadly the two species have interbred to such an extent that the Cape Platanna is dangerously close to disappearing entirely. 

However, there is something far more fascinating about these rather grotesque little beings than their endangered status (as harsh as that might sound)...

During the 1930s it was discovered that a female common platanna would spawn if injected with the urine of a pregnant woman. How exactly this was discovered is not entirely clear, but the frog soon became one of Africa's biggest exports as demand grew among women around the world. Over the next two decades it became known as the most reliable pregnancy test, till the little plus-minus stick we know today was developed in the 1960s. 

If you want to experience one of these informative marine walks - starting at the reception area pond and ending on beach rocks - contact the Cape of Good Hope section of Table Mountain National Park

Thanks to SANParks' Table Mountain National Park and the Green Cab company for a fascinating weekend break!

Read more on:    animals  |  travel south africa

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