Extreme Amphibians

Written by Tyler Parker

Amphibians are an extreme and versatile group of animals. They come in three main body types yet they exhibit some extreme variation in size, shape, and function.


The largest frog or toad in the world is the Goliath frog (Conraua goliath) native to West Africa.  This frog measures in at 12.6 inches and weighs up to 7.17lbs. The Goliath frog is followed in sized by the Cane Toad (Rhinella marina) and African Bullfrog (Pyxicephalus adspersus).  Yet the world’s biggest amphibian title is held by the Chinese Giant Salamander (Andrias davidianus). This behemoth comes in at a whopping 5.9ft long and weighs in at a hefty 110 lbs. Though its size may be impressive, it has made it a target in its native China as a popular luxury food item and its use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  The world’s smallest amphibian Paedophryne amauensis (no common name given yet) from Papua New Guinea, also holds the title of the world’s smallest vertebrate.  Measuring in at an incredibly small 0.30 inches it beat out the current record holder, a fish from Indonesia by 0.0079 inches. This amazing amphibian can fit very comfortably inside the diameter of a dime.

Photo credit: Christopher Austin, Louisiana State University via National Geographic
Paedophryne amauensis – Photo credit: Christopher Austin, Louisiana State University via National Geographic


Amphibians come in many extreme shapes, all of which help them to survive in their natural habitat.  The most unknown group of amphibians has to be the caecilians; in appearance they look like scale less snakes or large segmented worms. This is augmented by the fact that most subterranean caecilians, have no or small vestigial eyes and weird tube like tentacles that come out of their nose.  Caecilians aren’t the only amphibians that look extreme though, take the Indian purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis).  This frog is again almost completely subterranean; it even eats underground, yet when the monsoons come to the Western Ghats of India these frogs surface to call and mate in the fast moving rivers and streams that are formed from the rains.

Photo credit: SD Biju, University of Delhi via National Geographic
Indian Purple Frog – Photo credit: SD Biju, University of Delhi via National Geographic


giant waxy monkey tree frog
Giant Waxy Monkey Frog

Though size and shape are an extreme in which we categorize amphibians, others in this order are equally extreme in the way in which they behave and survive in their natural habitats while dealing with extreme conditions.  Spadefoot toads cocoon under the ground in the deserts until the rains return and it is incredible that amphibians survive up north where it is cold almost 6 months out of the year. How do they do it? The North American wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) handles this situation by allowing itself to freeze solid by protecting its blood and vital organs with anti-freezing peptides produced by it and from the prey it eats.  The same is true of frogs that are exposed to extreme heat yet have no means to escape it by burrowing.  The giant waxy monkey tree frogs (Phyllomedusa bicolor) are able to produce their own natural sunscreen and wipe it all over their bodies to prevent drying out through desiccation.  Finally what’s more extreme than an animal that doesn’t breathe on land using lungs?  There is a whole family of salamanders called Plethodontidae that don’t have any lungs at all.  They breathe through their skin exclusively and are one of the largest families of salamanders in the world.  The most amazing thing is most of these salamanders are located here in the United States.

It’s extremely incredible how diverse amphibians are.


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That is great! I can't wait to come see it. Are there any plans to expand the giraffe exhibit ever? I feel like it's very small compared to all of the other really awesome exhibits for the big animals.

I feel like I've never seen grass in a zoo elephant habitat before- I bet they're hard on it! The whole exhibit looks incredible- especially the deep water! Amazing design; hope I can get to Houston one day to see it!

I took some of my daycare kiddos yesterday specifically to see the new space. They had it blocked off and wouldn't let anyone pass through the elephant area through to the hoofed animals. We were really sad we didn't get to see it.

Keep wild animals captive for the human entertainment. - Are we not better then that yet?? Shameful😢😢😢 And don't try to use that word 'conservation' - critical thinkers are smarter than that.

Yes THANK YOU for providing a more natural. Habitat for the elephant's. They need SPACE to roam. N the water added is awesome....they really needed that!

Waiting for some stupid kid to jump in and ruin it for the elephants.

Why have so many elephants babies died at your zoo ? it is because they are not meant to live in Captivity. Please set them free and stop breeding elephants for monetary value.

Not fond of most zoos, but at least these elephants are safe from killers like the Trump sons.

Jenny Carlisle I see a great excuse for Kimber to come visit besides to see her cousins!!

John and JoAnn we need to take Grant again. He will be so excited to see this!

So happy to see the Zoos continued support of the amazing Elephant Program

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Sergey!! We have to go!! Definitely bringing mama Nina too 🙂🐘

Thank you providing a beautiful setting for their physical and mental health!

Remember it was under construction when we were there Nicky Lichtl

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Eddie - we gotta go soon so Adrian can see his favorite animal splish-solash

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JoAnn, looks like we're taking Thomas to the zoo soon! 😍

Lesli Gietz James Gietz Grant going to love see this 💙 🐘

Nichole, I think a trip to the zoo is in our future!!

Does Tye get to play as well? Thought one of the elephants was in his on enclosure

Allison Jones I want to go see the elephants in the pool!

Awsome! Just in time for the hot summer ahead...#splish & #splash

Love elephants. Such quiet, gentle, strong and wise creatures.

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Do the Asian and African elephants coexist well?

how would you save a elephant if they had difficult swimming?

Is there opportunities for the public to get up close to see the elephants behind the scenes?

Do you offer any type of feeding or event like you have with the giraffes? Or sticking with the bath time?

Can they climb up on that ledge or is that just to keep them back from the fence

Will males and females be always separated now?

Do the elephants hug and let you get kisses?

When do the trainers talk this summer?

Will the females get to share the yard too?

How/where will males and females interact?

How much did this cost the taxpayers of Houston???

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About how long can they hold breath

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Are the elephants on display today?

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When is it open to public?

How deep is the pool

Still want to know why only the males are getting to use the new area.

I know they had said this habitat is for the males, does that mean the males and females will always be separated from now on

Gross question, but I'm curious... Do elephants defecate under water & is maintenance similar to a home pool?

@Cheree Neil It is to do with habits. Elephants when lacking enrichment complete stereotypical behaviours as they're known and swaying is one of them. It essentially is a display of boredom.

Kelsey Patterson - we are going to get to the zoo before you pop! Even if i have to push you around in one of those sea lion carts! LOL!

Ian, we love you and are so proud of you. Thank you for being our son.

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