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Holy Cross Frog at Naree Station Reserve. Photo Greg Carroll.
Holy Cross Frog at Naree Station Reserve. Photo Greg Carroll.

Holy Cross Frog

Scientific name: Notaden bennetti

The Holy Cross Frog (also known as the Crucifix Frog or Crucifix Toad) is one of Australia's most striking, with a bright yellow back and multi-coloured spots in the shape of a cross. 

The Crucifix Frog is a  ground-dwelling burrower . While underground, it keeps moist by creating a protective cocoon around itself.

When rain eventually trickles down to its burrow, and before it resurfaces, the Crucifix Frog eats its own cocoon for a nutritious kick-start. Delicious!

Crucifix Frog on the red soil of Naree Reserve. Photo George Madani.

It’s roughly the size of an Australian 20 cent piece. The female is slightly larger than the male.

The Holy Cross Frog lives in the semi-arid grasslands and black soil plains of south western Queensland and western NSW. It’s currently not considered endangered.

Holy Cross Frog behaviour

This pretty little frog spends most of its life underground, out of sight. It uses the ‘spades’ on its small feet to help it burrow up to 3 metres deep into the soil, waiting patiently for an extended period of rain. There it remains, cocooned and dormant, sometimes for years on end.

Upon heavy rain, when water filters down into the soil, the frogs emerge en masse to feed and breed. But blink and you might miss the Crucifix Frog! Not only are they tiny, but they have a rapid life cycle, lasting only six to eight weeks once they emerge and breed.

Holy Cross frogs emerging after rain. Photo Katie Irwin.


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They breed quickly, making the most of the wet conditions and temporary ponds of arid Australia. Temporary ponds also provide them with their favourite foods: mosquito larvae, insects and tadpoles.

Best of all, these poor swimmers ‘lure’ prey close by wiggling their toes! With the rest of their body immobile, this lure attracts the attention of unsuspecting insects.

This is unusual behaviour for Australian frogs and toads.

The Crucifix Frog is also one of the few Australian frogs to display aposematism – the use of bright colours to warn off predators.

When stressed it secretes a sticky substance from its skin. The secretion serves three likely purposes.

  1. It’s used to ensnare biting insects, which are later eaten when the toad sheds its skin.
  2. It’s used by males to attach themselves to larger females while mating.
  3. Finally, it acts as a distasteful deterrent to predators.

But the secretion has also attracted unlikely admirers – medical researchers and orthopaedic surgeons hope to use the strong, ‘gluey’ substance as a non-toxic adhesive.

The remarkable patterns of the Crucifix Frog. Photo Victoria Brockfield.

Threats to Holy Cross Frogs

Given their close association with floodplains, Crucifix Frogs are vulnerable to the over-extraction of water, the destruction of habitat for development, and prolonged droughts associated with climate change .

Bush Heritage’s work

Crucifix Frogs are found on Naree Station Reserve, in north-western NSW. A former pastoral property, Naree Station is located in the Warrego-Paroo River catchment, one of the least disturbed parts of the Murray-Darling Basin. 

Unlike most other river systems in the Murray-Darling Basin, there’s minimal water extraction in the Warrego-Paroo system, allowing the area to flood and dry naturally.

Beyond Naree, we’re working to protect toads, frogs and their habitat across Australia. The pandanus-lined wetlands of Reedy Creek in north Queensland provide habitat for an abundance of freshwater frogs.

Ethabuka Reserve, in central Queensland, boasts a wetland system of national significance. Now that we’ve removed cattle from Ethabuka we’re working hard to control feral herbivores, like camels, that foul wetlands and waterholes.

Donate today to help us continue this and other vital conservation work.

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