It means “devil toad,” and it was a 10 pound monster that lived 70 million years ago, in what is now Madagascar. It’s huge, and judging by its living cousins, was a voracious predator. If it were alive today, it would probably be eating your cats and puppies.
In other words, this was an awesome toad, and I wish I had one for a pet.
Here’s what it looks like, with some very large extant toads for comparison.
There are some biogeographical puzzles associated with this beast. It’s found in Madagascar, but it’s closest extant relatives are South American…and since frogs and toads do a poor job of crossing salt water, that implies the existence of land bridges between those continents around the Cretaceous. It’s not a major puzzle, though, although some of the news reports I’ve seen play up the concern, as if it were a significant controversy. As the authors explain,
We suggest that extant ceratophryines are remnants
of a Gondwanan hyloid clade that once ranged from at least
South America to Indo-Madagascar. Whether this clade was
more broadly distributed and on which Gondwanan landmass it
originated cannot be determined on current evidence. However,
as the Late Cretaceous fauna of the Maevarano Fm,
including its ceratophryine anuran, bears little resemblance to
that of modern Madagascar, major biotic changes clearly occurred on the island in the intervening period. When and how the ancestors of the endemic mantellid and microhylid anurans arrived on Madagascar remains controversial,
but there is general agreement that these frogs did not diversify
significantly until the Paleogene. Their radiation
has been linked, at least in part, to the expansion of rainforests,
but may also have been facilitated by the extinction of archaic
faunal elements, including ceratophryines.
It was a diverse, widespread group once upon a time, and it’s not at all challenging to report that the continents have shifted in 70 million years. It’s just very cool that anurans achieved the status of charismatic megafauna*, once upon a time.
*For a generous definition of “mega”.
Evans SE, Jones MEH, Krause DW (2008) A giant frog with South American affinities from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 105(8):2951-2956.