Why do some frogs slip?

Photo: Flying tree frog (Rhacophorus reinwardtii). credit: shutterstock

There are some exceptional daredevils in the jungles of East Asia. Some species of frog jump from the tops of trees and then float through the canopy.

Evolutionary biologist David Hillis (University of Texas) and colleagues at the Chengdu Institute of Biology traveled to the rainforests of China and collected some flying tree frogs – a lemon-green “umbrella frog” with black and yellow webs between its toes. The goal was to unravel the genes behind their impressive evolutionary adaptations.

They mapped the frog’s genome and compared it to a closely related and incapable of slipping species. In one study, they identified 455 variant genes, all linked to the frog’s morphological adaptation to its flight behavior.

Sticky toe pads

Then, to see the differences in action, the researchers performed a controlled flight test. They put frogs of both species on a stick and recorded all the jumps and flights they made. For samples that will not float, they provided a soft sponge on the bottom.

According to Mimi Coyle (University of California), who studies the biodynamics of flying frogs, the webs between their toes cause flying frogs to slow down in their fall. It also helps with canopy navigation. Frogs avoid trees by using their large hind legs as a rudder. Their sticky finger pads allow them to land safely

Source: University of Texas, USA

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