Brown-backed Tree Frog (Leptopelis mossambicus)

View the above photo record (by Ryan Tippett) in FrogMAP here.

Find the Brown-backed Tree Frog in the FBIS database (Freshwater Biodiversity Information System) here.

Family Heleophrynidae

BROWN-BACKED TREE FROG – Leptopelis mossambicus

Poynton, 1985


In the atlas region, this species inhabits a variety of bushveld vegetation types in the Savanna Biome, as well as Sand Forest and mangrove swamps. It seems to prefer moist, wooded, low-lying areas where it lays its eggs under leaf litter next to shallow pans, pools and streams. It has been recorded from relatively high altitudes in southern Malawi to sea level along the KwaZulu-Natal coast.


L. mossambicus retreats underground during the day and during the dry winter months. Wager (1965) noted that captive individuals spent the dry season (5–6 months) buried in the soil at a depth of 25 cm below the surface.

Leptopelis mossambicus – Near Hoedspruit, Limpopo
Photo by Alison Sharp

Breeding begins after the first heavy summer rains in November, and continues through January. Males call from elevated positions on grass, reeds, sedges, shrubs and trees, usually no more than 1.5 m above the ground. These call sites are normally near open water, but may be several hundred metres distant. The males are territorial and produce aggressive calls when other males are in close proximity. If the intruder does not move away, protracted fighting may occur (Passmore and Carruthers 1995).

The eggs are laid in a shallow burrow under leaf litter near the water’s edge (L.R.M. pers. obs.). The tadpoles complete part of their development in the nest, and may remain in a state of arrested development for several weeks until the next heavy downpour. When the egg capsules are moistened by rain, the tadpoles immediately break out and wriggle en masse to the water, where they complete their development (L.R.M. pers. obs.).

In captivity, L. mossambicus eat beetles, termites, moths and their larvae, and a record exists of a captive individual eating a baby chameleon (Wager 1986).

Status and Conservation

Within its distribution range, L. mossambicus is fairly widespread and is known to occur in numerous public and private protected areas. Populations appear to be stable. There are no known threats to this species at present. The continued protection of the habitat of this species in protected areas should be sufficient to ensure its long-term survival.

Leptopelis mossambicus – Juvenile colouration
Near Hluhluwe, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


L. mossambicus is distributed from southern Malawi through southeastern Zimbabwe to central and southern Mozambique (Poynton and Broadley 1987; Lambiris 1989a). In the atlas region, it occurs in the low-lying eastern parts of Limpopo Province, eastern Mpumalanga, Swaziland and northern KwaZulu-Natal. The southernmost record collected during the atlas survey at Everton (2930DD), and the historical record from Wentworth, Durban (2931CC), are disjunct from the main distribution further to the north. This break in distribution may reflect inadequate sampling.

The colour, markings and call of L. mossambicus are distinctive, and it cannot be mistaken for any other frog species in the atlas region. The atlas data are reliable and reasonably complete.

Distribution of Leptopelis mossambicus. Taken from the FrogMAP database, April 2022.

Further Resources

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

More common names: Bruinrug-boompadda (Afrikaans)

Recommended citation format for this species text:

Theron J, Minter LR, Tippett RM.  Brown-backed Tree Frog Leptopelis mossambicus. 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:

Theron J, Minter LR 2004 Leptopelis mossambicus Brown-backed Tree Frog. 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.

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!