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Australian lacelid

Common name: Australian lacelid

Scientific name: Nyctimystes dayi

Family: Hylidae (tree frogs)

Conservation status: The Australian lacelid is listed as Endangered in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). It is ranked as a low priority under the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection Back on Track species prioritisation framework.


Size (SVL): males 32.7-41.9 mm, females 54-58.8 mm (McDonald and Alford 1999) Weight: males 1.75-3.9 g, females 8.4 -11 g (McDonald and Alford 1999).

The Australian lacelid is a moderately sized frog, readily distinguished from other Australian hylids by the presence of large and prominent eyes with a vertical pupil and reticulated venation of the lower eyelid.

The dorsal surfaces may be roughened, finely granular or smooth. It is highly variable in colour, and may be dark or light brown, grey or creamish above, with or without irregular light markings. White or creamish spots reminiscent of lichen are often present, but vary in size and shape. The ventral surfaces are coarsely granular, cream in colour. The snout ranges from rounded to tapering gradually to a sharp point. The tympanum (ear) is indistinct. The hands are moderately webbed, and the feet are extensively webbed (Cogger 2000, Czechura et al 1987).

The tadpole is a torrent adapted form. The head and body are flattened, dark brown above, a sandy colour underneath. The tail is very muscular, with distinct dark and light patches. The tail fins are arched and rounded at the back and transparent with irregular pigmentation. The tadpoles mouth acts as a suction cap and is surrounded by flwshy growths (papillae), bumps and ridges.

Habitat and distribution

The Australian lacelid is restricted to rainforest and rainforest margins from 0-1200 m. In montane areas fast-flowing, rocky streams are preferred, but slower watercourses are also used. Adults are generally located on rocks and vegetation adjacent to the stream, though females have been found on large mossy boulders and tall vegetation some distance from the water (Czechura et al. 1987, McDonald pers. obs.). Tadpoles are found clinging to, or sheltering under, rocks in torrents and riffles of fast flowing rainforest streams (Davies and Richards 1990).

The species occurred throughout the Wet Tropics between Paluma, near Townsville and Big Tableland - 30km south of Cooktown. Upland populations have undergone significant range contraction since the late 1980s but lowland populations remain secure. It is found in Paluma Range, Lumholtz, Tully Falls, Wooroonooran, Daintree, Barron Falls, Cedar Bay National Parks.

Life history and behaviour

In chorus, the advertising call of the breeding male is a drawn out "eeeeeeeee" that inflects downwards at the end, repeated three or four times in succession, producing a harsh growl-like sound. Solitary males can voice a short, sharp "ee" every five to six seconds, sometimes over long periods (Czechura et al 1987, McDonald 1992).

Breeding occurs from September to April, and numbers encountered increase sharply during this period (Czechura et al 1987, McDonald and Martin unpubl. data). Females may lay over 100 large (2.3-2.6 mm diameter) clear eggs with discrete egg capsules in a cohesive clump on or under rocks at or below the water-line (Czechura et al 1987, Davies and Richards 1990). Tadpoles from eggs laid in early summer complete development in 3-4 months, while those laid in late summer may over winter and metamorphose the following summer.

During the early stages of development, tadpoles from a single clutch, aggregate together under a single rock. This behaviour persists until the gut is fully formed, after which they disperse and commence grazing on algal-covered rocks. When disturbed they release their grip on the rocks and are swept downstream, where they shelter under rocks or in crevices. This sheltering behaviour allows the tadpoles to remain in riffles even after flooding (Davies and Richards 1990).

Threatening Processes

The causes of the decline of the Australian lacelid remain unknown. No obvious evidence has been found that suggests drought, floods, habitat destruction or pollution by pesticides, inorganic ions or heavy metals were responsible for the population declines (Richards et al 1993). Current research is examining the possibility that a fungus may have caused the decline of this species (Berger et al 1998, Berger et al 1999). Information on disease investigations and management can be located at the James Cook University website.

The Australian lacelid is one of seven species of frogs occurring in the upland rainforest streams of north-eastern Queensland which have undergone substantial population declines in the last decade (Richards et al 1993). Population declines were first noted in 1989 and progressed northward (Ingram and McDonald 1993, Richards et al 1993, Trenerry et al 1994, McDonald and Alford 1999). The Australian lacelid is now absent from most localities above 300 m. Populations remain unaffected in lowland sites, but these are few in number.

Recovery actions

A recovery plan has been developed that relates to this species, the Recovery plan for stream-dwelling rainforest frogs of the Wet Tropics bioregion of north-east Queensland 2000-2004. This recovery plan makes the following management recommendations for the conservation of stream-dwelling frogs of the Wet Tropics bioregion.

  • Monitor historical localities to detect recovery.
  • Investigate disease in preserved animals and species occupying similar habitat.
  • Develop and refine husbandry techniques for rainforest stream dwelling frogs.
  • Continue studies on the ecology on this species.
  • Train park staff and community volunteers in identification of this species.
  • Implement monitoring by park staff of select locations within the national park estate where the Australian lacelid formerly occurred.

Related information

Berger, L., Speare, R., Dasak, P., Green, D.E., Cunningham, A.A. , Goggin, C.L., Slocombe, R., Ragan, M.A., Hyatt, A.D., Mcdonald, K.R., Hines, H.B., Lips, K.R., Maramtelli, G. and Parkes, H. (1998). Chytridiomycosis causes amphibian mortality associated with population declines in the rain forests of Australia and Central America. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 95: 9031 - 9036.

Berger, L., Speare, R, and Hyatt, A. 1999. Chytrid fungi and Amphibian declines: Overview, Implications and Future Directions. Pp23-33. In Campbell, A (ed), 'Declines and Disappearances of Australian frogs'.(Environment Australia, Department of the Environment and Heritage: Canberra). 234 pp.

Cogger, H.G. 2000. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Reed New Holland, Sydney.

Czechura, G.V., Ingram, G.J. and Liem, D.S. 1987. The genus Nyctimystes (Anura: Hylidae) in Australia. Records of the Australian Museum 39(5): 333-338.

Davies, M. and Richards, S.J. 1990. Developmental biology of the Australian hylid frog Nyctimystes dayi (Günther). Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 114(4): 207-211.

Ingram, G.J. and McDonald, K.R. 1993. An update on the decline of Queensland's frogs. Pp 297-303 In : Lunney, D. and Ayers, D. (eds), 'Herpetology in Australia. A diverse discipline'. (Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales: Mosman). 414pp.

McDonald, K.R. 1992. Distribution patterns and conservation status of north Queensland rainforest frogs. Conservation Technical Report 1., Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage, Brisbane.

McDonald, K.R., and Alford, R.A. 1999. A Review of Declining Frogs in Northern Queensland. Pp14-22. In Campbell, A (ed), 'Declines and Disappearances of Australian frogs'.(Environment Australia, Department of the Environment and Heritage: Canberra). 234 pp.

Northern Queensland Threatened Frogs Recovery Team. 2001. Recovery plan for the stream-dwelling rainforest frogs of the Wet Tropics biogeographic region of north-east Queensland 2000–2004. Report to Environment Australia, Canberra. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Brisbane.

Richards, S.J., McDonald, K.R., Alford, R.A. 1993. Declines in populations of Australia's endemic tropical rainforest frogs. Pacific Conservation Biology 1:66-77.

Trenerry, M. P., Laurance, W. F., and McDonald, K. R. 1994. Further evidence for the precipitous decline of endemic rainforest frogs in tropical Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 1: 150-153.

Last updated
24 November 2011