An ancient, predatory creature known as the devil frog may have looked even scarier than previously thought.
The monster frog, Beelzebufo ampinga, lived during the Cretaceous Period in what is now Africa, and sported spiky flanges protruding from the back of its skull and platelike armor down its back, almost like a turtle shell.
"We knew it was big; we knew it was almost certainly predatory," said study co-author Susan Evans, a paleontologist at the University College London. "What the new material has shown us is that it was even more heavily armored than we imagined."
The massive frog's spiked body armor may have helped it fend off the dinosaurs and crocodiles that prowled during that time. [See Photos of the Devil Frog and Other Freaky Frogs]
The researchers first discovered a few bone fragments from a mystery frog in Madagascar in 1998, but it wasn't until 2008 that they had enough pieces to identify the species, which they dubbed the devil frog, or Beelzebufo ampinga. The massive frog lived between 70 million and 65 million years ago.
When the team analyzed the frog's morphology, they found that physically, it fit in with a family of horned frogs called the Ceratophryidae, which are now found only in South America.
But to reach Madagascar from South America, the frogs would have needed to hop along a passageway, possibly through Antarctica, that linked the two landmasses. But that route was submerged underwater by 112 million years ago, Evans said.
That would mean that devil frogs must have diverged from their South American cousins prior to that submergence, pushing back the origin of Ceratophryidae by more than 40 million years, Evans said.