Planet Earth

Study: Belly-Flopping Frogs Evolved Big Jumps Before Smooth Landings

DiscoblogBy Joseph CalamiaJul 26, 2010 5:31 PM

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Apparently it's hard to teach an old frog a new trick: landing on its legs. As painfully demonstrated in the video below, the primitive frog family Leiopelmatidae prefers to belly-flop. In a study soon to appear in the journal Naturwissenschaften, Southern Illinois University's Richard Essner Jr. and his team compared, via high-speed video, five frog species' jumping techniques: three "primitive" frogs and two "modern" frogs (so named because they evolved more recently than the "primitive" species). Though all the frogs started their jumps similarly, the primitive frogs kept their legs extended when they land--keeping their Superman pose to the skidding end. The researchers believe the frog jump may have evolved in two steps: first the shared leg starting position and then the mid-flight leg repositioning, which the primitive frogs lack. They think the apparently more modern landings may offer an evolutionary advantage, as it allows frogs to quickly execute another jump--a nice advantage when looking for food or escaping an enemy. But evolutionary biologist T. Ryan Gregory proposes a potential alternative interpretation: Given that the primitive frogs also have a different swimming style, is the belly-flop really more "primitive," or did it emerge along with other traits adapted for the frogs' fast-running stream habitat? Old or new, the belly-flopping frogs come equipped with their own gut protection: "shield-shaped" pelvic cartilage and abdominal ribs which researchers believe may soften the blow. For more, check out Ed Yong's post on Not Exactly Rocket Science. Related content: Discoblog: Video: How Male Frogs Kick up a Frog Froth to Protect Their Young Discoblog: Endangered Frogs Encouraged to Get Amorous in an Amphibian “Love Shack” Discoblog: Frogs Pee Away Scientists’ Attempt to Study Them Discoblog: It’s Raining Tadpoles? Fish, Frogs Shower Japanese Residents

Video: Video by Essner; soundtrack by Ed Yong.

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