Meet the Frog Who’s Too Small to Do Anything Frogs Should

  • The pumpkin toadlet can’t do anything right — and that won’t stop it.

They say size doesn’t matter. But when it comes to being a frog, it kind of does.

If you’ve never heard of the pumpkin toadlet, don’t feel bad — we hadn’t either. And that’s a pity because it would’ve made a perfect addition to our list of the most pathetic animals.

The pumpkin toadlet truly lives up to both parts of its name. As to the “pumpkin part,” the frog is a bright orange color, like a jack-o-lantern.

And about the “toadlet” part, well… The pumpkin toadlet is not a toad, but we’re going to say the name is still accurate.

This creature is positively minuscule. Although it’s huge compared to the smallest frogs in the world, even at its largest it’s still only about three-quarters of an inch long from snout to booty.

Living in the jungles of southeastern Brazil, the pumpkin toadlet does its best to do whatever it is frogs get up. But the problem is that it totally sucks at the most basic frog duties.

And the reason is that it’s just too dang small.

Photos courtesy of University of California Berkeley

‘They Fall on Their Face’

But what does it mean to suck at being a frog? Well, for starters, the pumpkin toadlet can barely jump.

Well, that’s doing the toadlet a disservice — it can jump pretty well. It’s the landing part that’s a complete disaster.

“They fall on their face all the time. It’s sad,” Marcio Pie, a biologist at Edge Hill University, told The Atlantic.

It’s a small miracle (at least to us) that the frogs can jump at all with their pathetic stick legs, but they do. When researchers poke them on the butt with straws, they quite readily leap into the air.

And that’s when it all starts going downhill — figuratively and literally. The airborne frog goes almost completely stiff and just kind of cartwheels in whichever direction momentum decides to spin it.

When it hits the ground, it engages in what Pie and other researchers have dubbed “uncontrolled landing.” This means that the pumpkin toadlet doesn’t do a thing to try to land gracefully.

It just smashes to the ground at whatever angle it happens to be in. Just look at it.

Is that not the most pathetic thing you’ve ever seen?

Naturally Drunk

But the reason for the frogs’ inability to land from a jump isn’t actually in their little toothpick limbs.

“The muscles work just fine,” confirmed Pie.

The problem lies inside their heads. No, not their brains — it’s their inner ears that are the issue.

In case you need a refresher on anatomy, the inner ear houses the vestibular system. It’s the sensory system that’s responsible for maintaining your sense of balance and for making you car sick.

The vestibular structures of pumpkin toadlets are so tiny that they’re basically useless. In fact, their sense of balance is so bad that they can barely walk. They sort of tumble around like they’d chugged a handle of vodka.

But when they jump, their whole vestibular system pretty much gives up. The frog has no clue which way it’s headed or which way is up or down.

So, it just… Gives up and falls to the ground.

We’d say it’s not jumping but falling in style, but there’s no style to be found here.

Baby, Can You Hear Me?

Their underdeveloped ears cause another issue for the pumpkin toadlet apart from jumping. As you’re no doubt aware, most frogs croak or make other kinds of noises when it’s time to attract a mate.

Pumpkin toadlets do that too. But there’s no point to it — they’re almost completely deaf.

Scientists believe they can faintly hear certain sounds, but their own mating calls aren’t among them. The mate of its dreams could be croaking right next to a pumpkin toadlet and it wouldn’t know.

Instead of sound, the frogs seem to use gesturing, mouth movements, and inflating their vocal sac to tell others that they’re ready to get down and dirty. But that only works if they happen to walk into each other.

Even then, it must be difficult to do mating dance when you’re basically perpetually drunk.

Failing Upwards

At this point, you just have to ask — how are these things still alive? If they make mating calls but their own species can’t hear them, why aren’t predators just picking the pumpkin toadlets off one by one?

Well, that pumpkin coloring isn’t there just for decoration. It’s a warning sign to let everybody know that the pumpkin toadlet is toxic.

Researchers suspect that’s also the reason why the frogs haven’t lost their ability to croak. There’s no evolutionary need to stop doing it since predators don’t want to eat them anyway.

Another quirk that helps the toadlets survive is that they lack the tadpole phase that most frogs have. Young pumpkin toadlets crawl out of their eggs as fully formed — if even smaller — frogs.

So, the pumpkin toadlets can’t jump, their croaking is completely pointless, and they even skip one of the defining growth stages of all frogs. They just can’t do the frog thing right, but they’re still thriving in Brazil’s jungles.

It’s kind of inspirational in a way. Talk about failing your way to success.