Family Heleophrynidae

Heleophryne regis Hewitt, 1909

Southern Ghost Frog, Royal Ghost Frog, Suidelike Spookpadda (A)

By R.C. Boycott

Currently accepted name: Heleophryne regis
Red listing status: Least Concern

Photo by Stander Rian; Lourance Klose, 2013. URL: FrogMAP: 1326


H. regis is endemic to coastal mountain ranges of Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa. It occurs from the Huis and Perdeberg rivers in the Outeniqua Mountains in the west (3322CC), eastward along the Tsitsikamma and Kareedouw mountain ranges, to Jack-se-bos in the Krom River Forest Reserve (3424AB) in the east (Boycott 1982). Recorded altitude for the species is 230–790 m.

The atlas data are reliable and reasonably complete.


H. regis occurs in clear, slow to swift-flowing streams in forested, high-rainfall areas that receive 900–1200 mm p.a. (Boycott 1982). The vegetation in these areas is described as Wet Mountain Fynbos with Afromontane Forest communities (Moll et al. 1984), but this species appears to be restricted to the forests.

In the closed-canopy forests the stream gradient is sometimes low. The water is dark brown owing to the presence of humic compounds, and meanders slowly between moss-covered boulders. The habitat resembles that of H. orientalis in this respect.

Life history

In August, an adult female with small developing eggs in the reproductive tract was found dead on the road in Outeniqua Mountain Pass. It had been raining earlier in the day. On another occasion in August, an adult female was collected from a soil pit, in a pine plantation, 600 m from the nearest river in the Outeniqua Mountains (P.J. Lourens pers. comm.). These observations indicate considerable movements away from breeding habitat in the non-breeding season.

Although breeding activity has been observed November–February, H. regis exhibits peak breeding in mid-summer (December–January) when river and stream flow is reduced (Boycott 1982). Adult males call from positions close to waterfalls and cascades, but also from beneath rocks in slower flowing sections of streams. At waterfalls and cascades, rock cracks, crevices and caves are formed and these are prime calling sites. Calling males have also been recorded from wet rock faces, under spongy moss and in overhanging vegetation, such as tree fern branches, directly above small waterfalls and cascades. During the day, adults have been seen out in the open at the bottom of pools. Males sometimes take up positions close to each other. Two or more calling males have been seen, only centimetres apart, under small stones in a streambed (pers. obs.). FitzSimons (1946) recorded six specimens under a single rock at Deepwalls near Knysna. The formation of breeding aggregations is also exhibited by H. orientalis.

The eggs and oviposition sites of H. regis are described here for the first time. As with H. purcelli, H. orientalis and H. hewitti, the eggs of H. regis are large-yolked and yellow. They are laid under rocks at the edges of quiet pools or under large flat rocks lying across streams (pers. obs.). Once, at around midday in the Outeniqua Mountains, a large rock lying across a slow flowing section of the Perdeberg River was lifted, revealing a pair and a partially laid clutch of eggs. Several eggs were attached to one another by a jelly-like substance protruding from the female’s cloaca. A total of 36 eggs had been laid and later another 47 eggs were released, making up a clutch of 83 eggs. Visser (1990) gave clutch size, derived from dissected females, as 114–197 eggs. However, from six clutches found either in the field, or released in captivity by gravid females, it was apparent that smaller clutches are laid by smaller females. Clutches ranged from 78 to 171 eggs (pers. obs.).

In early January, a clutch of 137 eggs was collected when a large rock (c.30 × 40 cm) at the edge of a shady pool (10 × 2 m) was overturned. The eggs appeared to be freshly laid as no development could be seen with a small hand lens. In the laboratory, the eggs were placed on stream gravel in shallow trays, with fresh water that was changed daily from a nearby stream. After four days, the tadpoles hatched with a large amount of yolk. They remained fairly still on the gravel, twitching now and then, and stayed this way for three or four days until most of the yolk had been absorbed, after which they started swimming actively. On another occasion, fertilized eggs collected at the time of laying (mid-December), hatched after 16 days. On this occasion, the eggs were kept in a plastic bag in a coolbox for the duration of a one-week fieldtrip, and this may have affected their development. After one week, the eggs showed clear development with a recognizable head and the body of the tadpole curving around the yolk.

Tadpoles are found beneath submerged and partly submerged rocks in streams and rocky pools. They are preyed upon by dragonfly nymphs (A. Turner pers. comm.). Metamorphs leave the water November–January, after c.12 months in the larval stage (Boycott 1982).


H. regis is secure at present. The species’ habitat is relatively well protected in several private and public protected areas.

Current distribution map

Undated records;  pre-1996;  1996 to 2002;  2003 to present


  • Web:
    FrogMAP. 2017. Heleophryne regis Hewitt, 1909. Animal Demography Unit. Acceesed from; on 2017-09-22 11:09:27.
  • Book:
    Minter L.R., Burger M., Harrison J.A., Braack H.H., Bishop P.J. & Kloepfer D. (eds). 2004. Atlas and Red Data book of the frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. SI/MAB Series no. 9. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Published by the Smithsonian Institution and the Avian Demography Unit (now Animal Demography Unit).