Why are these little frogs so scary at jumping?

The moment the pumpkin toadlet jumps into the air, anything seems possible. The small frog, which is about the size of a bee and the color of a cloudberry, has no problem rising above the ground. But when the pumpkin toadlet starts to fly, something goes awry.

The body and limbs of the frog begin to rotate like starfish. And then it falls, until it lands on its back or on its head and inadvertently stops at the cartwheel or rear, until it rolls freely.

“Some people are just spinning,” said Andre Confetti, a graduate student at the Federal University of Paran in Brazil. “Some guys do This Move, ”Confetti added, moving his fingers in a circle like a water wheel.

“Frogs are flying in the air, in space,” said Amber Singh, who will soon be a master’s student at San Jose State University.

The pumpkin toadlet, which is a frog but not a toad, is so terrifying to jump on that its mere incapacity has become the subject of scientific research. A team of researchers from the United States and Brazil, including Confetti and Sing, say they have an answer: Miniature toadlets are so small that the fluid-filled chambers in their inner ear control their balance function rather ineffectively, destroying daring little jumpers crash landing. For a lifetime.


The paper confirms that there are many species of pumpkin toadlets, which belong to a species of small frog. BrachycephalusThe current “a very unusual jump with uncontrolled landing behavior,” said Thais Condez, a researcher at Carleton University in Canada who was not involved in the study.

Or, as Confetti puts it, “they do nothing right.”

It is not easy to have a bee-shaped spine. Pumpkin toadlets have made evolutionary trade-offs as small as reducing the number of digits in their legs from five to three. Rick Esner, an active morphologist at the University of Southern Illinois at Edwardsville and author of the paper, says frogs, which are famously moist, dry out more quickly when they are small. But sometimes it gets smaller: “To a pumpkin toddle, an ant is a huge food,” Esner said.

Credit: Andre Confetti
Pumpkin Toddlet, Brachycephalus coloratus.

Frogs developed the ability to jump before they landed, which meant that not all frogs could master the second part of the process. Esner had previously studied a group of similarly inexperienced tailed frogs, which jumped quite acceptablely but landed on a full-faced tree.

Marcio Pie, a researcher and paper writer at the Federal University of Paran in Brazil, emailed Esner about the pumpkin toddle when he learned of his research on the stomach-flopping frog. Pie’s lab members begin collecting toadlets and other tiny frogs from the wild so they can jump and (try to land).

Pumpkin Toddlet lives an elusive life. Frogs live and feed on fallen leaves in the Atlantic Forests of Brazil, which makes them extremely difficult to study because of their size. “They are very small and secretive creatures,” Condez said. “Most of our knowledge about their behavior comes from rare field observations.”

Finding bug-shaped frogs in Brazil is a difficult task. Although bright as a pumpkin todlet chito, the leaf litter has neon fungus and other orange life. “It’s extremely difficult to get under the litter of leaves,” Confetti said. “Especially for me, because I’m color blind.”

Instead, the researchers had to hear the call of a frog, which sounds a bit like cricket. Back in Pie’s lab, the researchers placed each bank on a mirror surrounded by some obstacles and illustrated their attempts to jump. (Some had to cheer on their little backs with a soft tap.)

When Esner saw the footage, he burst out laughing. Then he immediately swallowed the problem of hand. The toadlets were so far from the belly-flopping-tailed frogs of the frog family tree, which meant that the problem was not the ancestor. Then why they could not jump? “It wasn’t a ‘eureka’ moment,” Essner said. “It was, ‘What’s going on here?’ Moment. “

Credit: Rick Esner
Brachycephalus coloratus Trying the maximum.

Esner proceeded to read a number of scientific papers, including a previous experiment in which researchers weakened the vestibular systems of the cane toad, which is usually a great grasshopper. Compromised toads exhibited as sharp landing problems as pumpkin toadlets.

Esner wondered if Toddlett’s problem had come down to size. Vertebrates are able to balance and orient themselves around the world because of our vestibular system: a complex system of fluid-filled chambers and canals in our inner ear. As our head moves, a fluid called endolymph produces a force that derails sensitive hair cells and signals our central nervous system to control our posture and movement. Despite the vast body size of vertebrates, these canals are fairly consistent in size. “In a bullfrog vs. a man or a whale, they don’t change as much as you would expect,” Essner said.

The researchers suspected that Toddlet’s tiny body and small skull limited the size of the semicircular canal in their inner ear and could prevent the fluid from flowing freely inside. “When you take a tube and make it smaller and smaller and smaller, the resistance to fluid flow increases,” Esner said.

David Blackburn, curator of herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, and Edward Stanley, an associate scientist at the museum, performed CT scans on museum specimens of 147 species of frogs, including the largest frog (Goliath frog). (“There are several species of frogs running for the smallest frog,” Stanley noted), and the pumpkin Toddlet. The frogs were stored in a “standard frog position, fairly rigid and not super floppy,” as Stanley described. He packed the preserved frogs in peanut bags in a ziplock bag and scanned them with a million dollar machine. Singh then rendered a 3D model of the frog’s semicircular canal from the CT scan.

The results reveal the semicircular canal of the measurement Brachycephalus And tiny frogs Pedophrine These were the smallest of any adult vertebrate, resulting in loss of motor control and subsequent chaotic landings.

Researchers have considered other possible explanations. Perhaps the pumpkin toadlets’ three-fingered foot slipped during the initial jump? Or perhaps their careful landings were meant to resemble a fallen leaf, fooling hunters in search of food? But the videos didn’t show significant slippage on Toddlet’s take-off, and the landing Toddlets didn’t have enough time to reliably resemble a leaf, the researchers wrote.

CT scans further indicated that the toadlets had created some internal bone armor to make it somewhat safer to be destroyed. “It looks like they’re wearing a backpack that has all the bones,” Stanley said, referring to the Pumpkin Toddlet species. Brachycephalus ephipium. Still, the pumpkin toadlet is probably more of a troll than a lipper. Esner suggested that jumping was probably an escape response, a way to quickly remove oneself from a dangerous situation. Better a poor horse than no horse at all. Also, “If you’re the size of a housefly, you don’t have to worry about breaking bones,” Essner added.

Pumpkin Toddlet lives in the Atlantic forests of Brazil, one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. “Every mountain in southern Brazil has the potential for a new species Brachycephalus“We don’t know how much,” Confetti said Brachycephalus We have it in our backyard. “

But 85 percent of the region’s forests have been deforested and what remains is highly fragmented. “It makes me wonder how many of these species there were that we would never know about, because they are already gone,” Esner said.

Perhaps the takeaway of Pumpkin Toddlet is that not everything should be optimized. Just because you’re bad at something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, especially if you have a secret bone backpack and toxic venom glands. Even if the small jump of the pumpkin toddle is equivalent to the locomotive drawing of a horse, this does not mean that it should not walk, jump or roll in the damp leaf litter of an invisible forest. Each species should have the right to fail spectacularly, but on its own terms.

Credit: Rick Esner
Brachycephalus brunias Tried.

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