Creative frogamandering


Image ABC (Australia) Michael W. SkrepnickGrogamander depiction
Frogs like to hop, salamanders like to walk. But what did this creature do? The above illustration is how the general public saw the ‘frogamander’ confidently portrayed in news and popular science reports.4,6,7 But is that how the creature dubbed Gerobatrachus hottoni really appeared?

Are frogs and salamanders of the same originally created ‘kind’, or different? As far as I’m aware, creationists have not definitively addressed this question, not having had any particular need to do so.1

For evolutionists, however, it’s a very different story. Evolution ascribes common ancestry to all living things, so evolutionists have a pressing need to find fossil examples of ‘intermediates’ to be the common ancestors of various organisms, ultimately leading back to the mooted single-celled ancestor(s?2 ) of all life.

But the needed ‘intermediates’ have proved, for 150 years now, to be elusive3—which is why, for example, even just the supposed evolutionary origin of amphibians alone (Lissamphibia: frogs, salamanders and caecilians) has been a matter of ‘longstanding debate’4 and ‘one of the most controversial questions in vertebrate evolution’.5

So it’s hardly surprising that the discovery of a fossil said to have a mixture of frog and salamander features, and claimed to have ‘set to rest one of the greatest current controversies in vertebrate evolution’,6 has been enthusiastically embraced by proponents of evolution. (E.g. well-known Australian science populariser Dr Karl Kruszelnicki.)

The new fossil has been named Gerobatrachus hottoni (‘elderly frog’). ‘It’s a perfect little frogamander,’ said lead researcher Assistant Professor Jason Anderson of the University of Calgary. He told National Geographic: ‘It had an overall amphibian gestalt. … You know, kind of a froggy salamander-y sort of look.’7

And that’s just how the illustration that featured in various media outlets4,6,7 portrayed it (figure 1). But did Gerobatrachus hottoni really look (and walk) like that?

‘The fossil itself is almost perfectly complete,’ one news outlet4 reported Anderson as saying. But National Geographic News7 was more circumspect, warning that John Bolt, curator for fossil amphibians and reptiles at The Field Museum in Chicago had urged caution in interpreting the fossil specimen. (Note that John Bolt is an evolutionist himself.) Bolt said that it is difficult to say for sure whether this creature was a common ancestor of frogs and salamanders, ‘given that there is only one known specimen of Gerobatrachus, and an incomplete one at that’.7

Going back to the original paper in Nature to resolve this apparent contradiction—i.e. whether the fossil is ‘almost perfectly complete’4 or ‘an incomplete one’7—reveals that the research team’s original wording was:

‘The 110-mm-long specimen (Fig. 1) is preserved fully articulated in ventral [bottom] view, and is missing only the stylopods, zeugopods, and ventral portions of the skull and pectoral girdle.’5

Note that their ‘Fig. 1’ in the Nature paper is not the illustration that appeared in the popular media (reproduced in our figure 1 above). No, that ‘frogamander’ illustration does not appear anywhere in that research paper. Instead, their ‘Fig. 1’ shows a photograph of the fossil in the rock, along with an adjacent interpretive outline drawing of the bones evident in the fossil. There’s a curious lack of any legs in the fossil evidence (apart from portions of two feet at one end of the fossil). You might wonder what the missing ‘stylopods’ and ‘zeugopods’ might be in this otherwise ‘almost perfectly complete’ fossil. Prominent evolutionists Neil Shubin, Clif Tabin and Sean Carroll define them thus:

The tetrapod limb consists of three distinct compartments: a, the stylopod (upper arm and thigh); b, zeugopod (lower arm and calf); and c, autopod (hand and foot).8

Thus, the Gerobatrachus hottoni fossil missing its ‘stylopods’ and ‘zeugopods’ is actually missing its legs! One wonders if the likes of ScienceDaily, National Geographic and other science news outlets actually realized that? Perhaps they would not quite so readily have published the confident-looking artists image of the perambulating ‘frogamander’ if they’d known that the legs—not to mention the pectoral girdle—were missing. Hence no-one can tell from the fossil remains of Gerobatrachus hottoni how, or even if, it might have walked (hopped?). So no-one can say for sure what sort of amphibian it might be.

John Bolt, the aforementioned evolutionist who urged caution in interpreting the fossil made a couple of other interesting comments, too. The fossil is said to be 290 million years old, and Bolt observed that it is ‘remarkably like the modern amphibians’.7 Of course, ‘evolutionary stasis’ does catch evolutionists by surprise, and Bolt added:

‘The most astonishing thing to me about this study is that this animal is far more froglike than I would ever have expected from its age.
‘Nothing this nonprimitive has ever been described from this age. It’s just amazing.’7

It’s not at all amazing when one realizes that millions-of-years ages don’t stack up with closer inspection of sedimentary strata and the fossils within. Gerobatrachus hottoni (or whatever its true identity might be) was buried during the events of Genesis 6–9 and is therefore only around 4,500 years old, a descendant of its ancestors of the same kind created around 6,000 years ago.

Published: 11 July 2008


  1. ‘In the beginning’, according to the Bible (Genesis 1:1), God created the various kinds of flying creatures, aquatic creatures, land animals, and finally man. (Note that Jesus said that humans, male and female, were created ‘at the beginning of Creation’ (Mark 10>:6), leaving no room for any ‘theological compromise’ that seeks to insert long ages before the creation of Adam and Eve.) The Creator programmed living things to reproduce according to their various kinds (Genesis 1:20–28), which, barring extinction in the meantime, they’ve been doing ever since. Return to text.
  2. Despite the immense difficulty for evolutionists in explaining how life could have arisen even once, some have suggested, in order to solve other problems with evolutionary theories, that it could have arisen multiple times. E.g., Raup, D. and Valentine, J., Multiple origins of life, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 80:2981–2984, May 1983. Return to text.
  3. Of course, over the years since Darwin there have been numerous claimed ‘transitional forms’, often heralded in a blaze of publicity in the popular media, but the public rarely hears of the subsequent muted retractions. Note, e.g. Not another ape-man!, and also the saga surrounding That quote!—about the missing transitional fossils. Return to text.
  4. Steenhuysen, J., Scientists discover ‘frogamander’ fossil, ABC News in Science, <www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/05/22/2252667.htm>, 22 May 2008. Return to text.
  5. Anderson, J., Reisz, R., Scott, D., Frobisch, N., & Sumida, S., A stem batrachian from the Early Permian of Texas and the origin of frogs and salamanders, Nature 453(7194):515–518, 22 May 2008. Return to text.
  6. Science Daily, Ancient Amphibian: Debate over origin of frogs and salamanders settled with discovery of missing link, sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080521131541.htm, 21 May 2008. Return to text.
  7. Casselman, A., ‘Frog-amander’ fossil may be amphibian missing link, National Geographic News, <news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/05/080521-frog-fossil.html>, 21 May 2008. Return to text.
  8. From the caption for Figure 2 in the essay by Shubin, N., Tabin, C., and Carroll, S., Fossils, Genes and the Evolution of Animal Limbs, from page 104 of Shaking the Tree: Readings from Nature in the History of Life edited by Henry Gee, <http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/gee/shubin2.html>, acc. 4 July 2008. Return to text.