Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments

, Volume 94, Issue 4, pp 529–567 | Cite as

The Euro-American genus Eopelobates, and a re-definition of the family Pelobatidae (Amphibia, Anura)

  • Zbyněk RočekEmail author
  • Michael Wuttke
  • James D. Gardner
  • Bhart-Anjan Singh Bhullar
Original Paper


The extinct Eopelobates (Eocene of western North America; Eocene–Pliocene of Europe) and Pelobates (Oligocene–Recent of Europe; Recent of northern Africa and the Middle East) are superficially toad-like anurans that are united within the family Pelobatidae mainly on the basis of a unique, tripartite frontoparietal complex. Both genera have a relatively good fossil record consisting of isolated bones, skeletons, and developmental series of tadpoles through adults, all of which are potentially informative for tracing the evolutionary history of the family. Eopelobates is of interest for several reasons. Of the two pelobatid genera, Eopelobates appears earlier in the fossil record (early Eocene vs. late Oligocene) and it is more primitive in lacking many of the features associated with fossoriality in extant Pelobates. The taxonomic composition of Eopelobates has been contentious and at least one putative new species has long been recognised, but never formally named. Here, we provide updated taxonomic accounts for Pelobatoidea, Pelobatidae, Pelobates, and Eopelobates and document development within a series of tadpoles and juveniles of E. bayeri from Bechlejovice (late Oligocene in age), Czech Republic. We also provide updated accounts for the five previously named and currently accepted species of Eopelobates. For the European congeners, E. anthracinus (late Oligocene) and E. bayeri (early Oligocene–middle Miocene) can confidently be regarded as separate species; although the distinction between E. hinschei and E. wagneri (both middle Eocene) is less certain, we provisionally maintain them as separate species. Micro-CT scans for the holotype skeleton of E. grandis (latest Eocene, USA) help resolve some problematic features, most notably showing that the cranial sculpture is of the pit-and-ridge style that is typical for Eopelobates. A sixth congener is named and described based on two skeletons from the middle Eocene portion of the Green River Formation, in Wyoming, USA. We caution that reports of Eopelobates-like anurans from the pre-Eocene of western North America and the early Eocene of India are based on isolated bones that cannot be assigned with confidence to that genus. The presence of Eopelobates in both North America and Europe may be explained by dispersal via the high latitude land bridge that connected those two continents during the late Paleocene through Eocene. The pelobatid fossil record is informative for documenting the nature and timing of changes in cranial features (e.g. ornament patterns, shape of nasals, pattern of frontoparietal–squamosal contact) from the inferred primitive condition seen in most Eopelobates to the more derived condition seen in extant Pelobates, but it is less informative for tracing the evolution of fossoriality, which is a key attribute of extant Pelobates.


Eopelobates Fossoriality Green River Formation Palaeobiogeography Pelobates Pelobatidae 



We thank Sandra Chapman (Natural History Museum, London), Boris Ekrt (National Museum, Prague), Yuri Gubin (Paleontological Institute, Moscow), Robert Farrar and Neal Larson (Black Hills Institute, Hill City), and Daniel Brinkman and Jacques Gauthier (Yale Peabody Museum, New Haven) for allowing us to study specimens under their care; Larry Hutson and Ashley Waldorf (Black Hills Institute) for help with procuring a replica of the holotype of Eopelobates deani; and Graeme Housego for accessioning that replica into the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology collections. Robert Farrar deserves additional thanks for having canvassed collectors and dealers on our behalf about locality information for the paratype of E. deani and for hosting J.D.G.’s visit to the Black Hills Institute in October 2013. Meinolf Hellmund (Geiseltalmuseum, Halle) provided information on the lithostratigraphy of the Cecilie III and IV localities. Amy Henrici (Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh) and Jean-Claude Rage (Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris) reviewed the manuscript and provided helpful comments and suggestions. Expenses for museum visits were covered by the Geological Institute, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague for Z.R., by the General Department of Cultural Heritage Rhineland Palatinate for M.W., and by the Royal Tyrrell Museum Cooperating Society for J.D.G. The photograph in Fig. 2a is courtesy of the Natural History Museum (London) and the photographs in Fig. 7a, b are from the archive of Zdeněk V. Špinar currently housed in the Department of Paleontology, National Museum, Prague.


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zbyněk Roček
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael Wuttke
    • 2
  • James D. Gardner
    • 3
  • Bhart-Anjan Singh Bhullar
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Palaeobiology, Geological InstituteAcademy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicPrague 6Czech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Archaeology, General Department of Cultural Heritage Rhineland PalatinateSection Geological History of the EarthMainzGermany
  3. 3.Royal Tyrrell Museum of PalaeontologyDrumhellerCanada
  4. 4.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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