Ornate Nursery Frog
Cophixalus ornatus (Fry, 1912)

Family: Microhylidae - Narrow-mouthed Frogs

Order: Anura - Frogs and Toads

Class: Amphibia

Phylum: Chordata - Vertebrates

Kingdom: Animalia

Red List status: Least Concern

Ornate nursery frog. Paluma National Park, Queensland, Australia
Adult length: 25 mm

Mossman south to Bluewater Range, Queensland, Australia

            Range            Description            Habitat            Behaviour            Biology            References
Other common names: Ornate frog, common nursery frog, ornate litter frog


Adult: Physically highly variable, easy to confuse with other Cophixalus species without a call recording. Base colour ranges grey to brown. There is commonly a dark W marking on the upper back and sometimes a narrow or broad stripe down the middle of the back. Commonly there are paired dark-edged yellow ovals towards the rear, at the sides of the dorsum. There is a pale blotch above the groin. The belly is spotted grey to brown. The digits are unwebbed and toe discs are large. The toe disc on the third finger is larger than that on the fourth toe.



Ornate nursery frog with yellow oval markings

Eggs: Large, pale eggs laid in a terrestrial clutch beneath leaf litter or moss.


Call: A short 'beep' (Queensland Museum 2000).

Ornate nursery frog calling site

Similar species: Most other Cophixalus species are smaller. The fully-expanded toe discs distinguish this species from C. infacetus. At lower altitudes and towards the southern end of its range, C. ornatus is often the only member of the genus present.



Rainforest, occasionally extending into adjacent wet eucalypt woodland.

Elevation: 0-1,500 m



During the day, animals shelter beneath cover objects such as rocks and logs.

Courtship: Individuals typically call from vegetation 1-2 m above ground, occasionally wedged between branches (see photo), and only occasionally from the ground. Subsequent courtship has been observed in this species alone among Australian microhylids, though is expected to be similar in other species. Once a gravid female has been attracted by a male's mating call, the male issues a high-pitched call that he uses to lead the female along the ground to a hole in the substrate or a crevice between rocks. The 'leading call' is higher-pitched than the typical mating call; a further call, described by Hoskin (2004) as "squelching", may advertise arrival at the nest site. Females select mates based on the quality of their nests, which appears to be related to their depth and their distance from the calling site. Males have been recorded leading females to nest sites via a circuitous route if the straight distance to the nest site is too short.

Parental care: As in other members of the genus, nest attendance in this species has been documented. In one recorded instance, the male attendant partially consumed the clutch he was guarding, before moving half the remaining eggs to a moister patch and abandoning the others, which failed to hatch. Nest attendants appear to prey largely on ants which might otherwise threaten survival of the clutch.



Breeding biology: This species exhibits the largest clutch size known from an Australian microhylid, with one male recorded guarding a clutch of 22 eggs (Hoskin, 2004). The smallest recorded clutch size is 11. A string of eggs is laid terrestrially in a terrestrial nest. Eggs then undergo direct development into froglets, without an aquatic tadpole stage.



Hero, J-M., Hoskin, C. and Retallick, R. 2004. Cophixalus ornatus. In: IUCN 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Hoskin, C. (2004) Australian microhylid frogs (Cophixalus and Austrochaperina): phylogeny, taxonomy, calls, distributions and breeding biology, Australian Journal of Zoology 52: 237-269
Wildlife of Tropical North Queensland The Queensland Museum 2000