Attenborough’s series returns with the toad that ate dinosaurs!

The toad that ate dinosaurs! This terrifying creature is just one of many brought to vivid life as David Attenborough’s stunning prehistoric series returns

However eager you are to find your prince, do not kiss this frog. He might just bite your head off. In fact, beelzebufo was more toad than frog – his Latin name translates as ‘devil toad’. 

One look inside his mouth reveals why. With his serrated teeth and double-jointed jaw, he could swallow his prey whole. Fossil hunters believe he probably killed and ate small dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

The size of a Jack Russell, beelzebufo was one of the stars of Apple TV+’s CGI spectacular Prehistoric Planet last year, and he has an even bigger role in the show’s second season, narrated once again by Sir David Attenborough and starting this week.

‘He deserves a TV series of his own,’ jokes Mike Gunton, the BBC natural history producer who made Planet Earth II with Sir David and is an executive producer of Prehistoric Planet. 

‘Beelzebufo has proved a favourite with viewers, even though he isn’t a dinosaur. On social media he’s inspired some astonishing fan art – as if he’s a character in a superhero movie. 

The size of a Jack Russell and equipped with serrated teeth and a double-jointed jaw, a Beelzebufo had the terrifying ability to swallow its prey whole. It is now believed that the creature probably killed and ate small dinosaurs 66 million years ago. They are the unlikely breakout stars of Sir David Attenborough's Prehistoric Planet on Apple TV+

‘This art is impressive, really professional. I’ve never seen it for a natural history series, apart from drawings of Sir David, who’s a bit of an online cult. People even have tattoos of him.’

Palaeontologists believe the toad had a ferocious roar, but when he really wanted to deafen the Jurassic swamps he kept his mouth closed and vibrated his body to create a low, bone-shaking rumble – his mating signal.

So realistic are the computer graphics in Prehistoric Planet that when a herd of sauropods called rapetosaurs thunder across the screen, it’s like we’re back in a Jurassic world based entirely on what science can tell us of the period just before an asteroid strike sparked catastrophic climate change and the end of the dino-era.

The rapetosaurs, similar to diplodocuses with elephantine legs and snake-like necks, are intent on a mud bath. Beelzebufo has to abandon his romantic broadcasts and get out of the way before several tons of herbivore rolls over him.

But these monsters bring one advantage for the devil toad. Their huge feet create deep puddles in the swampy ground. And when they’ve moved on, these footprints make ideal ponds for mating and egg-laying. 

‘Our aim,’ says showrunner Tim Walker, ‘is to make a natural history documentary about the world as it once was, instead of the way it is now. This is Planet Earth, but tens of millions of years ago.’

Every scene is set 66 million years in the past. ‘This is a snapshot of a particular period,’ says Mike. ‘I first had the idea when I was making Planet Earth II ten years ago. I remember saying to Sir David that the world had never looked more spectacular – and then I wondered whether it might once have been even more amazing. I had to find out.’

Once again the five episodes are set in five different habitats, but this time they’re more extreme – including the volcanic desert of the Deccan lava fields in modern-day India. 

In one of many astonishing scenes, the T-Rex is shown to have used its remarkable night vision to hunt unsuspecting prey in the darkness

‘That was a truly toxic environment,’ says Tim. ‘Dinosaurs that could survive there had one advantage: fewer predators. But they had to adapt in exceptional ways.’

One example is the isisaurus, a titanosaur with a long, thick neck and whiplash tail. Herds of females ventured into the volcano zone after mating on their way to feeding grounds. By rearing their heads as high as possible, they were able to breathe above the clouds of poisonous gas bubbling up from the thermal vents.

Incredibly, this was a favourite place for the isisaurus to lay their eggs. They buried clutches in the warm ash and left them to incubate, the way turtles deposit eggs in the sand at the sea’s edge today. Scientists know this because clusters of dino-eggs that were buried under fresh lava and fossilised have been found.

Hatchlings were able to call out and signal to each other, maximising their chances of survival by emerging together. No food grew in the lava fields, but incredibly these dinosaurs had a solution: the dung left behind by the females contained all the nutrients the babies needed. 

This dung was also rich in pheromones too, the hormones that enabled the babies to recognise their mothers’ scent, and by following it they could find their own way out of the lava desert to the forests.

Prehistoric Planet features plenty of bloodthirsty reality, and predators soon appear to snap up the hatchlings. Rajasaurs, around 30ft long and weighing over a ton, hunt the babies, devouring them in single mouthfuls.

Giant tarbosaurs didn’t have to rely on their size to bring down prey. We watch a pack of them chasing Mongolian titanosaurs up winding cliff paths to where another pair of tarbosaurs lie in wait. 

Leaping out at the right moment, they send a victim tumbling down the steep slope to its death – more efficient than trying to overpower it.

One astonishing scene follows another: T-Rex using its exceptional night vision to hunt unsuspecting prey in the darkness, ostrich-like corythoraptors spreading their feathered wings to shield their eggs from the sun, pterosaur chicks flailing on their first flights across a lake and being picked off by crocodilians.

It’s mesmerising viewing. Fans of the first series might imagine they know how our prehistoric planet looked when dinosaurs ruled… but believe me, the best is yet to come.

  • Prehistoric Planet, new episodes daily from Monday, Apple TV+.


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