Amietia vertebralis 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Amphibia Anura Pyxicephalidae

Scientific Name: Amietia vertebralis (Hewitt, 1927)
Common Name(s):
English Maluti River Frog, Aquatic River Frog, Ice Frog, Large-mouthed Frog
Amietia umbraculata (Bush, 1952)
Rana umbraculata Bush, 1952
Rana vertebralis Hewitt, 1927
Taxonomic Source(s): Frost, D.R. 2016. Amphibian Species of the World: an Online Reference. Version 6.0 (31 March 2016). New York, USA. Available at:
Taxonomic Notes: This species has a confusing taxonomic history which has been reviewed several times (Tarrant et al. 2008, Channing 2015). Most recently known as Amietia umbraculata, Channing (2015) reverted the name to A. vertebralis based on examination of type specimens and Zoological Nomenclature rules.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-07-26
Assessor(s): IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group & South African Frog Re-assessment Group (SA-FRoG)
Reviewer(s): Luedtke, J.
Contributor(s): Channing, A., Rebelo, A., Turner, A.A., de Villiers, A., Becker, F., Harvey, J., Tarrant, J., Measey, J., Tolley, K., Minter, L., du Preez, L., Burger, M., Cunningham, M., Baptista, N., Hopkins, R., Davies, S., Conradie, W. & Chapeta, Y.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Rebelo, A., Garollo, E., Measey, J. & Neam, K.
The species is Least Concern due to its relatively wide distribution across its range and apparent abundance at sites at which it occurs. However, the population as a whole is likely to have experienced declines as a result of the damming of major rivers in Lesotho as part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, as well as, recent road construction projects, resulting in local impacts on river habitat. It does appear to tolerate some habitat modification in the form of eutrophication.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

This species is a high-altitude montane anuran, usually occurring between 1,600–3,400 m asl, and is endemic to southern Africa and Lesotho. It occurs in the Afro Mountain Grassland and Alti Mountain Grassland areas and is found in most of the major rivers of Lesotho, as well as in the upper reaches of tributaries of the Thukela and Mzimkulu rivers in the Drakensberg of KwaZulu-Natal, the Elands River in the Free State, and the Bell River in the Eastern Cape. 

Countries occurrence:
Lesotho; South Africa (Eastern Cape Province, KwaZulu-Natal)
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:18272.50Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):No
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:34349.46
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:12Continuing decline in number of locations:No
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:NoLower elevation limit (metres):1600
Upper elevation limit (metres):3400
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:It is locally abundant across its range throughout eastern and central Lesotho. Subpopulations in Silaka Nature Reserve, near Port St. Johns in the Eastern Cape, occur in abundance (Venter and Conradie 2015). It may have experienced local declines as a result of damming of major rivers for the Katse and Mohale dams. Concerns have previously been raised over recorded pathogen-related mortalities (Smith et al. 2007), although the effect on this species is as yet unknown.
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:It is a water-dependent species in montane grassland. The adults are largely aquatic, preferring cold, clear mountain streams with rocky substrates (Lambiris 1991). They are able to remain completely submerged for long periods, and have been observed to spend up to 30 hours under water (Bush 1952), while tadpoles and juveniles spend more time closer to the surface and in shallower pools (Bates 2004). During the winter months both adults and tadpoles have been observed swimming under the ice that frequently forms a layer on the rivers in the highlands. 

Although they are found most commonly where conditions are classified as pristine, large numbers have observed in the Sani River near the Lesotho border post, the water of which is quite polluted from the laundry activities and debris from the nearby village. Breeding occurs during the warmer months (September–February), with males calling from under the water or with just the head protruding. Eggs are laid in large, sticky clutches in slow-flowing water and become attached to sunken vegetation (Bates 2004).
Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: It is used in local traditional medicine for treating burns and may be eaten on rare occasions (A. Rebelo pers. comm. August 2016).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): It is not significantly threatened because of the remoteness of its habitat. Local populations are probably affected by afforestation, dam building, and overgrazing by livestock, especially sheep, causing erosion and subsequent siltation of rivers. It is used in local traditional medicine for treating burns, but probably not at a level to constitute a threat to the species. Populations have been found to be infected by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which causes chytridiomycosis. This frog has the ecological characteristics of a species that is potentially at risk from chytridiomycosis, and so its populations should be regularly monitored (there has already been one recorded die-off, but this was not confirmed to be a result of chytridiomycosis). 

It could also be potentially threatened in areas of Lesotho affected by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, where the filling of the Katse and Mohale Dams may have resulted in habitat loss, as well as, the isolation and even extinction of some populations (Bates 2002, Minter et al. 2004). An additional observed risk to both species is the threat of predation and competition posed by the introduction of trout and other alien fish for recreational fishing into the main rivers of Lesotho (Swartz 2005). In heavily stocked regions it is common that the frog species only occurs in smaller rivers and tributaries not accessible to trout, for example, where above waterfalls, which inhibit the movement of trout.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions
The species has a relatively restricted range and is endemic to the Lesotho and Drakensberg highlands. It occurs, and is therefore protected, in the following nature reserves in South Africa: Cathedral Peak, Drakensberg Gardens, Giant’s Castle Game Reserve and the Royal Natal National Park. In Lesotho it occurs in Ts’ehlanyane National Park, Sehlabathebe National Park and the Bokong Nature Reserve. It also occurs in uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park and rivers in the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Park between Sehlabathebe and the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site (Bates 2002).

Research Needed
This species would benefit from monitoring of subpopulations with particular reference to the spread and effect of chytrid. Base line data on life-history, ecology, population trends and threats are all required before monitoring can begin.

Errata [top]

Errata reason: This errata assessment was created to update the list of historic assessments which had accidentally been attached to an incorrect concept of this species.

Classifications [top]

4. Grassland -> 4.4. Grassland - Temperate
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.1. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Rivers/Streams/Creeks (includes waterfalls)
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:No
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.2. Wood & pulp plantations -> 2.2.3. Scale Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.3. Livestock farming & ranching -> 2.3.2. Small-holder grazing, ranching or farming
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Negligible declines ⇒ Impact score:Low Impact: 4 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.2. Dams & water management/use -> 7.2.10. Large dams
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis ]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

9. Pollution -> 9.3. Agricultural & forestry effluents -> 9.3.2. Soil erosion, sedimentation
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

Bates, M.F. 2002. Distribution of Amietia vertebralis (Hewitt, 1927) (Anura: Ranidae), with comments on its taxonomic and conservation status. Navorsinge van die Nasionale Museum, Bloemfontein 18: 77-94.

Bates, M.F. 2004. Amietia vertebralis (Hewitt, 1927). In: L.R. Minter, M. Burger, J.A. Harrison, H.H. Braack, P.J. Bishop and D. Kloepfer (eds), Atlas and Red Data Book of the Frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, pp. 278–280. Smithsonian Institution—Man and Biosphere Biodiversity Program, Washington, D.C.

Bates, M.F. and Haacke, W.D. 2003. The frogs of Lesotho: diversity and distribution. Navorsinge van die Nasionale Museum, Bloemfontein 19: 101-158.

Bush, S.F. 1952. On Rana umbraculata, a new frog from South Africa. Annals of the Natal Museum 12: 153–164.

Channing, A. 1979. Ecological and systematic relationships of Rana and Strongylopus in southern Natal. Annals of the Natal Museum 23: 797-831.

Channing, A. 2001. Amphibians of Central and Southern Africa. Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London.

Channing A. 2015. The Maluti Mystery revisited: Taxonomy of African River Frogs (Pyxicephalidae, Amietia) on the Drakensberg Mountains in southern Africa. Zootaxa 3925(2): 271-280.

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3. Available at: (Accessed: 07 December 2016).

IUCN. 2017. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-1. Available at: (Accessed: 27 April 2017).

Lambiris, A.J.L. 1989. A review of the amphibians of Natal. Lammergeyer 39: 1-210.

Lambiris, A.J.L. 1991. The use of laryngeal and buccopharyngeal morphology in anuran taxonomy. Department of Biology, University of Natal.

Minter, L.R., Burger, M., Harrison, J.A., Braack, H.H., Bishop, P.J. and Knoepfer, D. 2004. Atlas and Red Data Book of the Frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. SI/MAB Series No. 9, Washington, D.C.

Passmore, N.I. and Carruthers, V.C. 1995. South African Frogs, 2nd Edition. Southern Book Publishers and Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg.

Poynton, J.C. 1964. The amphibia of southern Africa: a faunal study. Annals of the Natal Museum 17: 1-334.

Smith, K.G., Weldon, C., Conradie, W. and du Preez, L.H. 2007. Relationships among size, development, and Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis infection in African tadpoles. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 74(2): 159-164.

Swartz, E.R. 2005. Phylogeography, phylogenetics and evolution of the redfins (Teleostei, Cyprinidae, Pseudobarbus) in southern Africa. Department of Genetics, University of Pretoria.

Tarrant, J., Cunningham, M.J. and Du Preez, L.H. 2008. Maluti Mystery: A systematic review of Amietia vertebralis (Hewitt, 1927) and Strongylopus hymenopus (Boulenger, 1920) (Anura: Pyxicephalidae). Zootaxa 1962: 33-48.

van Dijk, D.E. 1996. Anuran fauna of the Lesotho Highlands in the Khatse Dam catchment area and Jorodane River region. Koedoe 39: 77-90.

Venter, A.J. and Conradie, W. 2015. A checklist of the reptiles and amphibians found in the protected areas along the South African Wild Coast, with notes on conservation implications. Koedoe 57(1): 1-25.

Wager, V.A. 1986. Frogs of South Africa, 2nd edition. Delta Books, Craighall.

Citation: IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group & South African Frog Re-assessment Group (SA-FRoG). 2016. Amietia vertebralis (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T54359A113299791. . Downloaded on 20 April 2018.
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