The African stink ant (Pachycondyla tarsata, previously Paltothyreus tarsatus) creates large underground colonies that are home to anywhere from hundreds to thousands of ants, and occasionally a frog or two. The West African rubber frog (Phrynomantis microps) hides in the humid nests to survive the long dry season of southern and central Africa. However, the ant colonies are armed with highly aggressive ant militias that fight off intruders with powerful, venomous jaws. So how do these frogs escape attack?
A study recently published in PLOS ONE found that the rubber frog excretes chemicals that camouflage it from the ants. Ants detect threats by “smelling” them with their antennae, but the frog’s unique perfume makes it invisible to the ants, allowing it to slip between their defenses undetected. Specifically, the scientists isolated two peptides in the secretion found to hinder the aggressive behavior common to stink ants.
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Photo by April Nobile. Available from http://www.antweb.org. Image Copyright © AntWeb 2002 – 2014. Licensing: Creative Commons Attribution License
While frog and arthropod associations are not uncommon, this is one of only three described frog-arthropod associations that include chemical signals. Along with the dotted humming frog and the burrowing tarantula, a frog species from South America (Lithodytes lineatus) breeds in the nests of a type of leaf cutter ant (Atta cephalotes) because of their stable microclimates. To earn their keep, the frogs eat assassin bugs that attack the ants.
This study is the first to decode the specific chemical signature of the rubber frog’s compound, providing not only insights into the natural world, but also potential products for human use. The peptides described “could be potentially used as models for taming insect aggression,” according to the study.
- Rödel M-O, Brede C, Hirschfeld M, Schmitt T, Favreau P, et al. (2013) Chemical Camouflage – A Frog’s Strategy to Co-Exist with Aggressive Ants. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81950. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081950
(03/05/2014) The term marsupial frog sound like a hoax, but, believe it or not, it’s real. Recently, herpetologists welcomed a new species, known as Gastrotheca dysprosita and described in the journal Phyllomedusa. Unlike mammal marsupials, which typically carry their young in pouches on their torsos and are found primarily in Australia, the Gastrotheca genus of frogs, which contains 62 species, is found in the Andes region on South America and sport their pouches on their backs (also called a “dorsal brood pouch”).
(01/28/2014) It’s official: Manu National Park in Peru has the highest diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the world. Surveys of the park, which extends from high Andean cloud forests down into the tropical rainforest of the Western Amazon, and its buffer zone turned up 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species, 16 more than the 271 species documented in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park in 2010.
(01/22/2014) A team of Australian and Vietnamese researchers recently discovered a new species of frog in the high elevations of Vietnam’s Mount Fansipan, according to a new paper in Zootaxa. The amphibian was named Botsford’s leaf-litter frog (Leptolalax botsfordi) as a tribute to Christopher Botsford for his role in amphibian biodiversity research in Asia.
(01/14/2014) Often touted as low-impact, remote oil roads in the Amazon are, in fact, having a large impact on frogs living in flowers in the upper canopy, according to a new paper published in PLOS ONE. In Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, massive bromeliads grow on tall tropical trees high in the canopy and may contain up to four liters of standing water. Lounging inside this micro-pools, researchers find a wide diversity of life, including various species of frogs. However, despite these frogs living as high as 50 meters above the forest floor, a new study finds that proximity to oil roads actually decreases the populations of high-living frogs.