Beelzebufo's bite was so powerful it would have been able to subdue small dinosaurs. Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia

A large, now extinct frog, called Beelzebufo – or devil frog - which lived 68 million years ago in Madagascar would have been capable of eating small dinosaurs because it had an extremely powerful bite, researchers have revealed.

They came to this conclusion after studying the bite force of South American horned frogs which currently live in Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil and are anatomically similar to Beelzebufo, albeit much smaller.

The study, published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, found that large South American horned frogs have similar bite forces to those of mammalian predators.

"Unlike the vast majority of frogs which have weak jaws and typically consume small prey, horned frogs ambush animals as large as themselves – including other frogs, snakes, and rodents. And their powerful jaws play a critical role in grabbing and subduing the prey", said Dr Marc Jones, a researcher from the University of Adelaide.

After studying small horned frogs with a head width of about 4.5cm the results showed that they can bite with a force of 30 newtons, or roughly 3kg. Using this data, the team then scaled up their findings to calculate the bite force of larger horned frogs – which the team weren't able to study directly – with heads of up to 10cm. They found these animals probably have a bite force of around 500 N, comparable to mammals and reptiles with similar sized heads.

"This would feel like having 50 litres of water balanced on your fingertip," said Professor Kristopher Lappin, from California State Polytechnic University – Pomona.

Finally, based on their scaling relationship, the scientists estimated the bite force of the giant Beelzebufo. Their bite may have produced a force of 2200 N, comparable to formidable mammalian predators like wolves and female tigers.

"At this bite force, Beelzebufo would have been capable of subduing the small and juvenile dinosaurs that shared its environment," said Jones.

Lappin added: "This is the first time bite force has been measured in a frog. And, speaking from experience, horned frogs have quite an impressive bite, and they tend not to let go. The bite of a large Beelzebufo would have been remarkable, definitely not something I would want to experience first-hand."

Beelzebufo – which is also referred to as the frog from hell – may have grown up to 41cm tall and could have weighed 4kg or more.