Frogs' bright colors cue scientists to diversity

August 22, 2012 By Fran Simon
Frogs' bright colors cue scientists to diversity
Tulane students are studying evolutionary changes of poison dart frogs, such as this blue morph of the strawberry poison frog from the Aguacate peninsula of Panama. Photo by Deyvis Gonzalez

Tiny poison dart frogs living wild in Panama may provide clues about relatively rapid biodiversification, says Tulane University evolutionary biologist Corinne “Cori” Richards-Zawacki. Her team of students has spent most of the summer at two field sites on an archipelago studying natural selection.

“I work out most of the logistics, and then I bow out,” letting the students gain experience as researchers, says Richards-Zawacki, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Aposematism — the combination of toxicity and bright coloration — is the major defense mechanism of the poison dart . In , these frogs have skin with a variety of colors: blue, green, red, orange, white and spotted.

“Their coloration is an advertisement of sorts, saying ‘do not attempt to eat!’” says Richards-Zawacki.

Frogs' bright colors cue scientists to diversity
Tulane students are studying evolutionary changes of poison dart frogs, such as this blue morph of the strawberry poison frog from the Aguacate peninsula of Panama. Photo by Deyvis Gonzalez

In one experiment, the students observe the behavior of chicks upon spotting the vividly hued frogs. The ’ observations will answer questions about how predators hunt frogs based on coloration.

“The chicks pick up the frogs in their beaks, but the frogs taste bad so they spit them out right away,” says Richards-Zawacki. “Do the chicks avoid all of the colors — green and blue, as well as red? Or just the color that they’ve learned to avoid?”

Neither the nor frogs are harmed by the taste-testing, she says.

The team also is looking at how barriers to reproduction may influence diversification.

“Understanding how we got the diversity of life here on Earth is important for conservation,” Richards-Zawacki says. “If we want to conserve a species, we also need to conserve its ability to adapt and undergo natural evolutionary processes.”

Explore further: Unraveling malaria's genetic mysteries

More information: An August issue of Molecular Ecology features a paper by Richards-Zawacki, “Mate choice and the genetic basis for colour variation in a polymorphic dart frog: inferences from a wild pedigree,” with one of the team’s photos on the cover.

Related Stories

Unraveling malaria's genetic mysteries

December 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Simon Fraser University researchers in biology and computing sciences are starting to piece together a picture that may help scientists and doctors save more than a million lives annually.

Scientists use frogs to battle superbugs

March 19, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Nuclear scientists using frogs in a battle against superbugs might sound like some kind of 1980s computer game – but it’s actually scientific research underway right now.

Recommended for you

A novel toxin for M. tuberculosis

August 4, 2015

Despite 132 years of study, no toxin had ever been found for the deadly pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which infects 9 million people a year and kills more than 1 million.

New biosensors for managing microbial 'workers'

August 4, 2015

Super productive factories of the future could employ fleets of genetically engineered bacterial cells, such as common E. coli, to produce valuable chemical commodities in an environmentally friendly way. By leveraging their ...

Fish that have their own fish finders

August 4, 2015

The more than 200 species in the family Mormyridae communicate with one another in a way completely alien to our species: by means of electric discharges generated by an organ in their tails.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.