Masters of Disguise: The Unique and Crafty Ways Frogs Distract Predators

By: Leah Ben

April 1st is a day revered by mischievous lovers of pranks, jokes, and foolery. Some may wish that fooling friends and family would be socially acceptable all year round. For one species, this is not only possible but necessary for survival. Frogs are masters of disguise! Even the biggest tricksters around may have something to learn from these amazing amphibians.

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Vietnamese Mossy Frog

Some frogs use camouflage as a defense mechanism to disguise themselves from predators in the wild. For example, the Vietnamese Mossy Frog’s red, green and black coloration along with it’s uneven, bumpy texture enables it to blend in among mosses and lichens within its habitat.

 

Fire-Bellied Toad

Fire-Bellied Toad

 

There are also some species of frogs that use their appearance to send messages to other animals who may be thinking that a frog would make a tasty afternoon snack. The Fire-Bellied Toad is a semi-aquatic frog species native to Korea, north-eastern China and adjacent parts of Russia. The Fire-Bellied Toad is bright green with black spots, and as its name indicates, it has a bright yellow to reddish-orange stomach area. It’s bright coloration tells predators “Stay away!”. When bothered by a predator, it will exhibit an “unken reflex” by arching its back and limbs to expose its bright belly. Its skin can secrete a mild toxin that can sting.

Blue Poison Dart Frog

Blue Poison Dart Frog

Another frog that uses its coloration to ward off predators is the Blue Poison Dart Frog. This frog’s bright blue skin warns predators of its highly toxin venom. These little guys average lengths of 1.2-1.8 inches and 8 grams, but don’t let their size fool you. Their venom can certainly pack a punch! Their skin can secrete a venom that can paralyze and even kill predators. Blue Poison Dart Frogs are native to South America, and indigenous people of Columbia have used the toxic mucus of the blue poison dart frog to coat the tips of their arrows and blow-gun darts. In the wild, Poison Dart Frogs create their venom from insects they eat, but in captivity, their diet eventually makes them venom-free.

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Perhaps the biggest prankster of them all is the Red-Eyed Tree Frog. As its name suggests, the Red-Eyed Tree Frog has red eyes along with a brilliantly green body. These rainforest tree dwellers are not poisonous, but they flash their bulging red eyes, huge orange feet and blue-and-yellow flanks when disturbed, tricking predators into thinking they are toxic. Red-Eyed Tree Frogs are nocturnal, spending the day on green leaves in the rainforests of Central America with their legs tucked in and eyes shut. This makes them practically invisible.

Want to see these frogs up close and personal? Visit Adventure Aquarium to experience Frogs: Nature’s Messenger, a limited-time opportunity to discover more than 20 kinds of frogs and see the world through their eyes.

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Working with poison dart frogs, from a biologist’s perspective

By: Lauren Hauber

Biologist Lauren Hauber holds up a yellow and black dart.  We occasionally have to handle our frogs for health examinations.

Biologist Lauren Hauber holds up a yellow and black poison dart frog. We occasionally have to handle our frogs for health examinations.

Hello, my name is Lauren Hauber and I’m the biologist in charge of taking care of all the poison dart frogs here at the Adventure Aquarium.  I have been working with the frogs here for about 2 years, but have been fascinated with amphibians my entire life.  When I was younger, I remember going out in the back yard of my house and trying to catch frogs, tadpoles, and anything else I could catch with my butterfly net.  It’s funny how that’s not much different from what I now do for a living.

When people think of dart frogs, they think of tiny little, brightly colored frogs that you can’t touch without getting sick or dying.  This prompts the question, so how do people like me handle them without getting poisoned?  While wild animals certainly are very toxic and can cause you great harm just by touching them, animals in zoos and aquariums are not.  The reason being that dart frogs acquire their poison from the insects they eat in the wild.  This is why even a wild dart frog will eventually lose its potency if kept in zoos and aquariums long enough.  Knowing that most people don’t know this, it’s funny to me when people gasp when they see me cleaning the windows or feeding in the dart frog exhibit.

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Blue poison dart frog

Most of the frogs on display at the Adventure Aquarium use camouflage to prevent themselves from being seen by predators.  This is not the case with dart frogs.  All day long you will see them out in the open hopping along without a care in the world.  Unlike most frogs, they want to be seen by predators.  Their bright colors let predators know that they are without a doubt, not good to eat.  Being such bold animals, many of them will look up in expectation of food when they see me open the lid.  Some will even hop up the back wall as fast as they can to be the first ones in line.  I always love it when they do that.  Every once and a while they ride on the yellow-footed tortoise’s back and I can’t help but smile when I see that.

A dart frog hangs out with our yellow footed tortoise

A dart frog hangs out with our yellow-footed tortoise

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing these animals produce more dart frogs.  Unlike most other frog species, poison dart frogs take care of their young, the extent of which depends on the species.  Our green and black poison frogs are the most prolific breeders at the aquarium.  I will usually come in one morning to find a small mass of 3 to 6 eggs laid in a Petri dish with the dad sitting not too far away, watching over them.  Since the eggs aren’t laid in water, the male will periodically “pee” on the eggs to keep them moist and to prevent fungus from growing on them.  It’s really cool to be able to watch the embryos slowly develop into tadpoles, a process that takes about two weeks.

Checking on the tadpoles!

Checking on the tadpoles!

When the eggs hatch, Dad will allow the tadpoles to wriggle up onto his back and he will transport them to a “suitable” water source.  In the wild this would be a water-filled tree hole, a bromeliad, or a puddle of stagnant water on the forest floor.  Parental care stops at this point, so it’s up to me to care for the tadpoles.  I will collect all the tadpoles from Mom and Dad’s enclosure and I will put them in a plastic cup full of water.  I feed them special tadpole pellets every day and in about two months they morph into the cutest little froglets.  If you thought Mom and Dad were small, think again.  The juvenile frogs are about one quarter the size of the adults.  You may wonder what such small animals eat, and the answer is fruit flies and very small crickets.  This is convenient since that’s what the parents eat too.  They just love them!  The froglets grow fast on this diet and in about one year they are fully grown adults.

Dart frog tadpoles

Dart frog tadpoles up close

All poison dart frogs are native to the rainforests of Central and South America, which as we all know is under threat by deforestation.  If we want future generations to be able to see and appreciate these beautiful animals, we need to stop destroying their homes.  When you visit Adventure Aquarium during Frogs: Nature’s Messenger, you can learn how to help frogs in the wild!

Respect the Frog Blog Series: How Frogs Predict the Weather

By: Nikki Grandinetti, Curator of Fish & Invertebrates

Part I of our “Respect the Frog” Blog Series

By the time February comes around, most of us that live in the northeast are ready for winter to make an exit, and are wondering if that famous groundhog will see his shadow and determine if we are in for another six weeks of winter. I on the other hand anxiously wait for the sounds of the night to once again fill my ears.

Calls from the tiny spring peeper can be heard up to a mile away

Calls from the tiny spring peeper can be heard up to a mile away

The first frog that signifies that spring has definitely returned is that of the spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer). This tiny frog – not more than an inch and half long – are rarely seen, but a chorus of these frogs calling can be heard from up to a mile away. Growing up I could tell how the season progressed from early spring to the late days of summer and early fall by the species of frogs that could be heard calling at night time.

After the spring peeper comes, the sound of the leopard frogs (Lithobates pipiens) and green frogs (Lithobates clamitans). Then the on warm summer nights I would listen for the low croaking of one of the largest North American frogs, the American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus).

Listen for the calls of American bullfrogs during warm summer nights.

Listen for the calls of American bullfrogs during warm summer nights.

The species that let me know that fall was coming and that the time to return to school was fast approaching, was the gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor).

You know fall is coming when you hear the sounds of the Gray tree frog

You know fall is coming when you hear the sounds of the Gray tree frog

Frogs also let us know when rain is on the horizon because their calls become louder, and more frogs are singing their hearts out. This is due to the frantic need for the males to attract a female so they can mate and lay their eggs in the nearest body of water. The life cycle of all frogs and amphibians is inherently tied to a source of freshwater. Thus, more rain increases the amount of vernal pools and temporary ponds for their tadpoles to develop.

The new frog exhibit at Adventure Aquarium not only showcases local species that you can find in your backyard, like the gray tree frog and the American bullfrog, but also introduce you to frogs from three other continents. From South America, meet the famous poison dart frogs who lay their eggs in the water that collects in bromeliad plants. From Africa, meet the two pound African bullfrog who anxiously awaits the rainy season to come out and lay 100’s of eggs in temporary ponds. The African bullfrog (Pyxicephalus adspersus) will also stay with their tadpoles to make sure they can always reach water, using their bodies to dig channels in the mud to allow the water to flow to their developing young. From Asia, meet the Vietnamese Mossy frog (Theloderma corticale) who displays an elaborate camouflage that transforms this species into a clump of moss on a tree.

So here is to hoping that famous groundhog does not see his shadow, and that the sounds of spring peepers will soon fill our backyard with their glorious chirping!