Malagasay Rainbow Frog (Scaphiophryne gottlebei)

AKA Ornate Burring frog or Gottleib’s Rainbow Frog. This small burrowing frog is endemic to the Isalo Massif region of central Southern Madagascar, living in canyons along freshwater streams with sandy soils. They only reach a snout vent length (SVL) of up to Isalo 4 cm (1.6 inches). Like other frogs in the family Microhylidae, they feed mainly on ants, termites, and other small invertebrate prey. Their broad toe pads help them climb over rocky terrain.

photograph by Franco Andreone and Dick Bartlett

Scaphiophryne gottlebei Busse & Böhme, 1992

The Malagasy Rainbow Frog


These frogs are found only amongst the humid canyons of the Isalo Massif of south-central Madagascar.

Morphology and Colouration:

This is a small frog. There is a sexual dimorphism in size: males reach 30mm in length, while females reach up to 40mm.

The toes are weakly webbed.

The unique colouration of this frog means that it cannot be confused with any other species, despite general morphological similarities.


These frogs are generally terrestrial and semi-fossorial (burrowing), but they are able to climb canyon walls.

Andreone et al. (2013) showed, using small radio trackers attached to frogs, that there is no difference in activity between sexes. They found that meteorological conditions determined activity patterns, and that individuals only very rarely range more than 50m in a single day. They concluded that these frogs disperse primarily in their larval tadpole form, and remain relatively localised upon metamorphosing into adults. This metamorphosis coincides with the cyclone season - the peak period of rainfall.

These frogs respond to the first rains of the wet season with a burst of mating activity.

Conservation Status:

S. gottlebei is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, due to its extremely narrow distribution (<5000km2), decline in habitat quality, and heavy collection for the pet trade.

S. gottlebei is a CITES Appendix II species: trade in this species is carefully controlled, and only 250 individuals may be exported per year.


This species is quite clearly resolved and not considered to be of complex taxonomic status.

S. gottlebei is apparently tetraploid - it is the only Malagasy frog known to have such a genetic arrangement.


Animalia-Chordata-Amphibia-Anura-Microhylidae-Scaphiophryne-S. gottlebei

Photo by Olaf Pronk.

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Andreone, F., P.E. Bergò, V. Mercurio, & G.M. Rosa (2013) ’Spatial ecology of Scaphiophryne gottlebei in the canyons of the Isalo Massif, Madagascar’, Herpetologica 69(1):11-21

Made with Flickr

I thought you might enjoy this picture of a rainbow hopper frog (Scaphiophryne gottlebei) at The California Academy of Sciences! Unfortunately, it is a endangered species due to frequent illegal pet trade. It’s quite sad.

Submitted by discere-et-docere

It is indeed quite sad! This species is also threatened because it is only found in one small area of Madagascar: the Isalo massif. It lives in the canyons, and has an extremely sedentary lifestyle. The forests in and around this massif are threatened by annual fires, as well as logging. Conservation action is being taken to prevent the destruction of this habitat.