The four-eyed frog is one of the more unassuming yet peculiar little creatures we’ve encountered creeping through the underbrush in the future Patagonia National Park. The four-eyed frog, or Pleurodema bufonina, looks much like any typical frog when viewed from the front: mottled grey-green, bumpy skin, small, pinhole nostrils, and large, brown eyes that bulge from the top of the head.
But wait! Viewed from behind, this little amphibian looks far from ordinary: it seems to have a second set of eyes sitting just above its hips. These “eyes” give the frog the appearance of having a much larger head, where it’s rear-end should be. This second “face” might fool predators into thinking that this little guy is bigger than he appears—perhaps too big to tackle. Question is, are those big peepers real, or is it all just an act?
As it turns out, the four-eyed frog gets its name by artifice alone—those deceiving false-eyes are actually big, poisonous glands. When the four-eyed frog is startled or threatened, it will turn around, and lifts its hind end, bulging out these glands in order to make them appear more “eye-like.” This trick—along with the poisons that lie within—are wonderful adaptations that have allowed this largely defenseless amphibian to ward off predators of all kinds that lurk in the dusky understory of the southern beech forest, and through the thick grasses of the steppe.
The Patagonian four-eyed frog has adapted to a variety of habitats throughout Chile and Argentina, including the temperate beech forests, the Patagonian steppe, and various transitional zones between. Wherever it is found, the four-eyed frog feasts on a variety of minute foods such as ants, nymphs, seeds and other tiny morsels.
This hardy frog, ranging further south than any other known frog species, is capable of enduring the harsh conditions that can sweep through the Southern Cone. Its main adaptive necessity is seasonal access to still water, in which the female will deposit her eggs after mating. Like most frogs, these eggs will hatch underwater, living and breathing safely underwater until they develop their adult, land-dwellng bodies.
Around the world, the presence of frogs is sign of a healthy, fully functioning ecosystem. We are delighted when we happen upon the curious four-eyed frog at Valle Chacabuco, and we wish them many happy returns as recovery flourishes here in their native habitat.