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UTEP Studies Toad That Disguises Itself as a Viper to Scare off Predators

Last Updated on November 05, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Originally published November 05, 2019

By UC Staff

UTEP Communications

The Director of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Biodiversity Collections has published a study that demonstrates how a Congolese giant toad mimics the appearance and behavior of the venomous Gaboon viper to avoid being eaten by predators.

Eli Greenbaum, Ph.D., associate professor and director of biodiversity collections at UTEP, has published a study that demonstrates how a Congolese giant toad mimics the appearance and behavior of the venomous Gaboon viper to avoid being eaten by predators. The grapefruit-sized amphibian is a master of disguise that has an astonishing resemblance to the head of the highly venomous Gaboon viper. 
Eli Greenbaum, Ph.D., associate professor and director of biodiversity collections at UTEP, has published a study that demonstrates how a Congolese giant toad (left) mimics the appearance and behavior of the venomous Gaboon viper to avoid being eaten by predators.

The grapefruit-sized amphibian is a master of disguise that has an astonishing resemblance to the head of the highly venomous Gaboon viper. 

"We're convinced that this is an example of Batesian mimicry, where a harmless species avoids predators by pretending to be a dangerous or toxic one," said Eli Greenbaum, Ph.D., lead principal investigator, associate professor and director of biodiversity collections at UTEP.

After years of fieldwork in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Greenbaum and his colleagues discovered that the toad (Sclerophrys channingi) occurs only in areas where the viper (Bitis gabonica) is present. The toad also looks like the viper: the toad’s body has some of the characteristic colors and triangular shape of the snake’s head. And, like the snake, it emits a hissing noise resembling the sound of air being released from a balloon.