Desert Tree Frog
Litoria rubella (Gray, 1842)

Family: Hylidae - Tree Frogs

Order: Anura - Frogs

Class: Amphibia

Phylum: Chordata - Vertebrates

Kingdom: Animalia

Red List status: Least Concern

Desert tree frog. Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Adult length: 40 mm

Tadpole length: 50 mm


Southern New Guinea to southern Australia. This is Australia's most widely-distributed frog, occurring in all mainland states except Victoria. In the southern portion of its range, most populations are mostly restricted to the west of the Great Dividing Range.

Range           Description            Habitat            Behaviour            Biology            Taxonomy            References

Other common names: Small red tree frog, little red tree frog




Adult: A very robust terrestrial frog with short legs and a rounded snout. Body colour ranges from light grey or fawn to a dark brick red. The back of the hindleg is brown flecked with white. The first finger is noticeably shorter than the second.


Distinguishing characters are the two large, dark blotches to the sides of the lower back and a broad, dark band extending from the nostril through the eye to at least mid-body. This latter may in some cases be obscure. The belly is white and the groin yellow. The throats of males become dark in the breeding season. Fingers are mostly unwebbed, toes half to two-thirds webbed. Toe discs are well-developed. The vomerine teeth are located behind the choanae, and maxillary teeth are present. The tympanum is distinct.


Tadpole: Uniformly dark brown above, opaque white below. The tail is short and transparent, with broad, arched fins

that taper abruptly to a point.

Eggs: A small, brown mat laid on the surface of still waters, and consisting of 40-300 individual eggs.


Call: A high-pitched buzz, repeated frequently.



Similar species: The small size and combination of patterning, enlarged toe discs and location of the vomerine teeth distinguish the desert tree frog from most Australian frogs. In New Guinea, it can be distinguished from most species by its distribution, confined to savannahs and woodlands of the dry southern trans-Fly region, and from L. congenita by shorter legs and the absence of a mid-dorsal stripe.




Call recording Jean-Marc Hero. Used with permission.
Desert tree frog. Note the paired dark blotches at the sides of the lower back.

Nearly cosmopolitan, including deserts in the Australian interior, where it is largely restricted to mountain ranges or larger rivers. Absent from rainforest. In anthropogenic habitats, this species is often found around water pipes.

Reproductive habitat: Temporary pools, often in grassy areas.



Semi-arboreal, generally found low in shrubs and trees next to water but often calling from the ground. Males call following summer rains.

Animals shelter under rocks, logs and similar cover objects to avoid extremes of temperature.



Life cycle: The larval period is short, ranging from 2-4 weeks in temperate regions, shorter in areas with higher temperatures.



This wide-ranging frog is likely to comprise a complex of at least six individual species.




Litoria rubella, Amphibiaweb 2009. Berkeley, California.

Wildlife of Tropical Queensland, The Queensland Museum 2000

Cogger, H. G. (2000) Reptiles & Amphibians of Australia, 6th Edition. Ralph Curtis Publishing: 808 pp

Menzies, J. (2006) The Frogs of New Guinea and The Solomon Islands. Pensoft, Bulgaria: 346pp

Robinson, M. (1993) A Field Guide to Frogs of Australia, Reed New Holland

Litoria rubella, Townsville, Queensland, Australia