Head co-ossification, phragmosis and defence in the casque-headed tree frog Corythomantis greeningi


* All correspondence to: C. Jared. E-mail: carlosjared@uol.com.br


Some anurans have a peculiar casqued head with the skin co-ossified with the underlying bones. This type of skull usually is associated with phragmosis, a protective behaviour in which the animal enters a hole and closes it with the head. Although co-ossification of the head in lissamphibians frequently has been associated with water economy, recent studies of Corythomantis greeningi, a casque-headed tree frog from semi-arid areas in north-eastern Brazil, suggest that cranial co-ossification contributes little to conservation of water in the frog. Instead, during phragmotic behaviour, the co-ossified head protects the animal against predators and indirectly enhances water balance. Thus, the primary role of co-ossification is defence, a hypothesis that is the focus of this study, which describes the morphology of the head of C. greeningi with an emphasis on the co-ossification and the venom glands. We report on behavioural features and on the toxicity of the cutaneous secretion produced by the abundant venom glands that are associated with large spicules on the skull.