When you think of fearsome predators, you don’t usually think of frogs—unless you happen to be a fly. Go back about 70 million years and that could have been a different story.
In an era when gigantism among both flora and fauna was not uncommon, prehistoric amphibians like Beelzebufo ampinga aka the “devil frog” got huge. Like, 10 pounds of frog. This thing really earned the Beelzebub in its scientific name, too, because scientists believe it could have had both the strength and appetite to devour even dinosaurs.
The scientists studying this supersized creature were already aware that frogs don’t typically blow anyone away with their jaw power. The devil frog’s descendants, a species of hot-tempered and aggressive South American horned frogs called Ceratophrys cranwelli, have something to say about that. Ceratophyrines are evil. They lie in wait ready to snap at anything that moves. This particular frog is the predator rather than the prey, downing many animals its own size. It was the next best subject for an experiment that would estimate the bite force of something that went extinct tens of millions of years ago.
C. cranwelli frogs used in the experiment bit down on a ‘force transducer”, which is really just a sci-fi term for a pair of bars that have the ends wrapped in soft leather to measure bite force. Kind of like this.
After the research team had the frogs do a considerable amount of biting (no fingers or other appendages were reported missing), the bite force was compared to the frogs’ head width. Plugging this data into a computational model that figures out the intensity of that force based on head width told them that a monster like Beelzebufo that had a head half a foot wide would bite with almost 500 pounds of force. That’s at least thrice as hard as our molars can tear through a juicy steak. Except this beast preferred a different sort of entrée.
“Given that prey size is known to increase with body size in a variety of tetrapods, and that Beelzebufo clearly had the ability to bite with considerable force, large individuals would have been able to prey upon a variety of contemporaneous taxa, including small/juvenile crocodiles and non-avian dinosaurs,” said the researchers in a paper recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.
While Beelzebufo could have possibly had a different jaw structure and skull shape, which would change the force with which it chomped down, that might only mean that it could rip the limbs off some hapless just-hatched dinosaur even more viciously.
This is why you should be really, really relieved you weren’t around on Madagascar during the Late Cretaceous.