Northern Pygmy Toad (Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti)

View the above photo record (by Vaughan Jessnitz) in FrogMAP here.

Find the Northern Pygmy Toad in the FBIS database (Freshwater Biodiversity Information System) here.

Family Bufonidae

NORTHERN PYGMY TOAD – Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti

Hewitt and Methuen, 1913


B. fenoulheti inhabits a variety of bushveld vegetation types in the Savanna Biome and is occasionally found in adjacent grassland. Its distribution lies within the summer-rainfall region.

Although occasionally found in sandy areas, these frogs usually occupy rocky outcrops, taking refuge between rocks or on soil under stones. In these situations they occur singly or in small groups of 5–6 (or as many as nine) individuals, often together with scorpions and lizards (Jacobsen 1989). In Zimbabwe, they have also been found sheltering under shallow, loose, matted layers of sand and roots overlying rocks (Lambiris 1989b). Breeding usually takes place in temporary pools, such as those on flat rocky outcrops or shallow rain ponds, sometimes in barren areas.


Breeding occurs October–February in the Kruger National Park, but only after heavy rain (H. Braack pers. obs.). During the breeding season, males have bright yellow throats and call from exposed positions near the edges of rain pools or while partly submerged near the edge (Lambiris 1989a; Passmore and Carruthers 1995). Jacobsen (1989) noted that several frogs appeared on the day after an afternoon rain shower, and some of them were found in amplexus after being placed in bottles. He observed that strings of eggs were abundant at the edge of rain-filled depressions and hatched after about 24 hours.

Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti – Magaliesberg, North West
Photo by Ryan van Huysteen

The following observations refer to a population of B. fenoulheti from Lobatse, Botswana (Power 1927b). The species breeds from late November to late January, at which time the males congregate in shallow rock pools. An axillary clasp is used during amplexus. Females produce strings of 2000 eggs that are entwined among stones and vegetation. Tadpoles feed on algae on the bottom and sides of the pools and take c.19 days to complete their development and undergo metamorphosis. According to Channing (2001), strings of eggs are 200 mm long and one clutch consisted of only 245 eggs.

Adults feed on soft-bodied arthropods taken on largely sand-free rock surfaces. Frogs kept in sandy terraria often die after ingesting sand particles which apparently cause internal injury (Lambiris 1989a).

Predators of this species in Kruger National Park include the Snouted Night Adder Causus defilippii and Herald Snake Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia (Pienaar et al. 1976).

Status and Conservation

B. fenoulheti occurs in several provincial and private nature reserves in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, as well as in Kruger National Park. The species is widespread and common within its range and is not considered to be at risk because its habitat is generally well protected.

Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti – Near Mookgopong, Limpopo
Photo by Gary Nicolau


B. fenoulheti occurs from Zeerust (2526CA) in North West Province, eastward through Limpopo Province and northern Gauteng to northern and eastern Mpumalanga, and extends southward through the northeastern parts of Swaziland and KwaZulu-Natal to St Lucia (2832AD). It also occurs north of the atlas region in Zimbabwe and adjacent parts of eastern Botswana, southern Zambia and Namibia’s Caprivi Strip, as well as the higher-lying parts of southern Mozambique (Channing 2001). A population on the western Chimanimani Mountains of Zimbabwe is treated as a distinct subspecies: B. fenoulheti grindleyi Poynton 1963. B. fenoulheti occurs at altitudes ranging from sea level to about 1700 m.

B. fenoulheti was treated as a subspecies of B. vertebralis by Poynton (1964), but was later elevated to full species on the basis of differences in its advertisement call (Poynton and Broadley 1988). Although previously considered to be allopatric, the ranges of these two species are now known to overlap in the North West and extreme western Limpopo provinces (Bates 1995; Jacobsen 1989; this atlas). A recent study of the mitochondrial DNA of bufonids confirmed the species status of B. fenoulheti (Cunningham and Cherry 2000).

The atlas data are reliable, but there are large gaps in the coverage of this species’ distribution. It is something of a mystery why this species should have been so poorly recorded in large parts of its range; further surveys are recommended.

Distribution of Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti. Taken from the FrogMap database, April 2022

Further Resources

Virtual Museum (FrogMAP > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name)

More common names: Noordelike dwergskurwepadda (Afrikaans)

Recommended citation format for this species text:

Bates MF, Tippett RM.  Northern Pygmy Toad Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti. BDI, Cape Town.
Available online at

Recommended citation format: 

This species text has been updated and expanded from the text in the
2004 frog atlas. The reference to the text and the book are as follows:

Bates MF 2004 Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti Northern Pygmy Toad. In Minter LR
et al 2004.

Minter LR, Burger M, Harrison JA, Braack HH, Bishop PJ, Kloepfer D (eds)
2004. Atlas and Red Data Book of  the Frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and
Swaziland. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and Avian Demography
Unit, Cape Town.

Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti – Near Lephalale, Limpopo
Photo by A. Coetzer
Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!