Heleioporus australiacus


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Heleioporus australiacus
Species Authority: (Shaw & Nodder, 1795)
Common Name(s):
English Eastern Owl Frog, Giant Burrowing Frog
Rana australiaca Shaw & Nodder, 1795
Taxonomic Notes: The northern and southern populations could comprise different species (Penman et al. 2004).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2ac ver 3.1
Year Published: 2004
Date Assessed: 2004-04-30
Needs updating
Assessor(s): Hero, J.-M., Lemckert, F., Gillespie, G., Robertson, P. & Littlejohn, M.
Reviewer(s): Chanson, J.S., Cox, N.A. & Stuart, S.N.
Listed as Vulnerable because of a population decline, estimated to be more than 30% over the last ten years, inferred from an observed decline in numbers, and from habitat destruction and degradation.
2002 Vulnerable

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species is confined to the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range and coastal regions from the south end of the Olney State Forest north of Sydney, New South Wales (Australian Museum records), to Walhalla in the central highlands of eastern Victoria (Littlejohn and Martin 1967). It has been found from near sea level up to 1,000 m asl, from the coast to almost 100 km inland along the escarpment of the Great Dividing Range (Gillespie 1990, Rescei 1997, Australian Museum records). Most records are either from the north end of the range in the Sydney region, or eastern Victoria and south-eastern New South Wales (see Gillespie 1990, Penman et al. 2004). There is a notable disjunction in records between Jervis Bay and the Eden District, which might be due to either the rarity of the species or the limited survey effort in the region. However, recent records have nearly filled in this gap (F. Lemckert pers. comm.). Large river valleys seem to have played a major role in determining the distribution of this species (Penman et al. 2005).
Australia (New South Wales, Victoria)
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Available information indicates that H. australiacus is now rare (Webb 1987, Gillespie 1990, Rescei 1997), and populations appear to have declined. However, information is lacking on the demography of the species and on the size of populations. With few exceptions, recent records of this species have been of a single individual or few individuals (Gillespie 1990, Daly 1996).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: In the south end of its range the species occurs in a wide range of forest communities including montane sclerophyll woodland, montane riparian woodland, wet, damp and dry sclerophyll forest (Gillespie 1990). In the central coast of New South Wales the species is associated with sandy soils that support heath vegetation (Mahony 1993). Breeding activity occurs in spring to autumn (Gillespie 1990), although the species has been found to be active throughout the entire year, with activity peaks in the months of February, April and May (Penman et al. 2006). Males call from partially flooded burrows at the base of creek banks or beneath dense vegetation beside creeks (Littlejohn and Martin 1967, Gillespie 1990). Breeding occurs at ephemeral pools and sometimes-permanent pools. Watson and Martin (1973) recorded 775-1,239 eggs (2.6mm diameter) from four foamy egg masses deposited in standing or slow water in vegetation or burrows, while near Jervis Bay they ranged from 698-807 (Daly 1996 in Penman et al. 2004). Tadpoles are free-living and metamorphosis occurs at 3 and 11 months (Daly 1996).
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: There are no reports of this species being utilized.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): There are a number of threatening processes operating across the range of this species, including intensive timber harvesting, cattle grazing, fuel reduction burning, introduced terrestrial and aquatic predators, and disturbances resulting from urbanization (Gillespie 1990, Rescei 1997), in addition to pollution and disease (Penman et al. 2004). Road mortality has also been observed (Mahony 1993). The potential impacts of most of these processes have not been examined. Foxes and cats are common and widespread throughout south-eastern Australia and are potentially a major threatening process to terrestrial frog species such as H. australiacus (Gillespie and Hines 1999). Chytrid fungus was detected in this species in Springwood, New South Wales. Fires may also constitute a threat to this species (Penman et al. 2004), and while logging is currently excluded from the species' known breeding habitat, it has the potential to impact individuals that may occur beyond these habitats (Penman et al. 2005). Different degrees of suspended sediments in water (that may result from e.g. storms, logging activities) were found not to affect growth of tadpoles; however, survivorship was found to be higher in the high sediment regime (Green et al. 2004).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: It is listed as Vulnerable in the states where it occurs (Victoria and New South Wales) and is therefore protected by State legislation. It is also protected where its habitat occurs within State Forest or National Parks. This species is the subject of two major studies in New South Wales.

Bibliography [top]

Barker, J., Grigg, G. and Tyler, M. 1995. A Field Guide to Australian Frogs. Surrey Beatty and Sons Pty Ltd, New South Wales.

Daly, G. 1996. Observations on the eastern owl frog Heleioporous australiacus (Anura: Myobatrachidae) in southern New South Wales. Herpetofauna: 33-42.

Gillespie, G. and Hines, H.B. 1999. Status of Temperate Riverine Frogs in South-Eastern Australia. In: Campbell, A. (ed.), Declines and Disappearances of Australian Frogs, pp. 109-130. Environment Australia, Canberra.

Gillespie, G.R. 1990. Distribution, habitat and conservation status of the giant burrowing frog, Heleioporus australiacus (Anura: Myobatrachidae), in Victoria. Victorian Naturalist: 144-153.

IUCN. 2004. 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 23 November 2004.

IUCN. 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2009.2). Available at: (Accessed: 3 November 2009).

Lee, A.K. 1967. Studies in Australian amphibia II. Taxonomy, Ecology and evolution of the genus Heleioporus. Australian Journal of Zoology: 367-439.

Lemckert, F.L., Brassil, T. and McCray, K. 1998. Recent records of the giant burrowing frog (Heleioporus australiacus) from the far south coast of New South Wales. Herpetofauna: 32-39.

Littlejohn, M.J. and Martin, A.A. 1967. The rediscovery of Heleioporous australiacus (Shaw) (Anura: Leptodactylidae) in eastern Victoria. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria: 31-36.

Mahony, M. 1993. The status of frogs in the Watagan mountains area the central coast of New South Wales. In: Lunney, D. and Ayers, D. (eds), Herpetology in Australia, pp. 257-264. Surrey Beatty and Sons Pty Ltd, Sydney.

Penman, T.D., Lemckert, F.L. and Mahony, M.J. 2006. Meteorological effects on the activity of the giant burrowing frog (Heleioporus australiacus) in south-eastern Australia. Wildlife Research 33: 35-40.

Penman, T.D., Mahony, M.J. and Lemckert, F.L. 2005. Soil disturbance in integrated logging operations and the potential impacts on a fossorial Australian frog. Applied Herpetology 2: 415-424.

Penman, T.D., Mahony, M.J., Towerton, A.L. and Lemckert, F. 2005. Bioclimatic analysis of disjunct populations of the giant burrowing frog, Heleioporus australiacus. Journal of Biogeography 32: 397-405.

Penman, T., Lemckert, F. and Mahony, M. 2004. Two hundred and ten years looking for the Giant Burrowing Frog. Australian Zoologist 32(4): 597-604.

Rescei, J. 1997. The giant burrowing frog Heleioporous australiacus. In: Ehmann, H. (ed.), Threatened Frogs of New South Wales: Habitats, Status and Conservation, pp. 56-65. Frog and Tadpole Study Group of New South Wales, Sydney South, Australia.

Watson, G.F. and Martin, A.A. 1973. Life History, larval morphology and development of Australian Leptodactylid frogs. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia: 33-45.

Webb, G. 1983. Diet in a herpetofaunal community on the Hawkesbury sandstone formation in the Sydney area. Herpetofauna: 87-91.

Webb, G. 1991. A survey of the reptiles and amphibians of Bondi State Forest and surrounding areas, near Bombala, NSW. Australian Zoologist: 14-19.

Webb, G. 1993. Significance of the giant burrowing frog (Heleioporous australiacus) in the Bomaderry Creek Reserve. Submission to the Land and Environment Court. Leac.

Webb, G.A. 1987. A note on the distribution and diet of the giant burrowing frog Heleioporous australiacus (Shaw and Nodder 1795) (Anura: Myobatrachidae). Herpetofauna: 20-22.

Citation: Hero, J.-M., Lemckert, F., Gillespie, G., Robertson, P. & Littlejohn, M. 2004. Heleioporus australiacus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 31 August 2015.
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