Poison Frog’s Homing Abilities Puzzle Scientists

Who would ever think about a poison frog’s homing abilities? Well, scientists have and they were quite puzzled by these abilities. When scientist placed these little amphibians deep into the jungle, they quickly begin devising a rescue plan. These poison frogs were totally disoriented, they were at least half a mile away from their home, and they found themselves in very dense underbrush that they had never even seen before. Yet, amazingly, these frogs manage to turn themselves toward home. And then they quickly hopped right back home. And in the end, these results would serve to show researchers a few things about the navigation of animals—and to get some kind of idea exactly how these frogs accomplished this feat.

Categorizing Homing Skills

Many male poison frogs tend to remain in one small territory across the floor of the rainforest, there they defending the turf against any intruders. There are actually many species that have great homing skills. Whenever they are taken away from their home turf, they always return and it is not clear exactly how they do this. Andrius Pasukonis, who comes from The University of Vienna began studying the navigation skills of frogs by specifically examining a species known as the brilliant-thighed poison frog, Allobates femoralis. Within the French Guiana, he discovered that these particular frogs could repeatedly find the way home from some 200 meters away, and even from up to 400 meters away.

Scientists Expanded Their Study

But Pasukonis had a difficult time tracking any frogs over distances longer than that. The brilliant-thighed poison frog is actually very tiny, just about an inch long, and this severely limits the kinds of tracking devices it is able to carry. Thus Pasukonis and also coauthor Matthias-Claudio Loretto traveled to Peru to conduct studies on another frog – specifically a three-striped poison frog, Ameerega trivittata. This particular species is around twice as big as the brilliant-thighed poison frog. This allows for the carrying of miniature radio transmitters—and thus scientists would be able to really put their skills to the test.

The research team collected some male frogs and attached tiny waistbands using silicone tubing. And to these waistbands they attached these miniature radio transmitters. Care had to be taken because they could either drop off or even hurt the fragile skin of the frog.

After everyone was properly outfitted, 12 of these frogs get ready for the planned journeys. After this, the researchers submitted just one single frog at a time into a frog-disorientation bucket or device. These frogs were then spun around many times and then carried off using indirect routes and then were then released. These sites were at different distances from the home turf of the frogs ranging from 200 to 800 meters away. After they released these, Pasukonis and Loretto tracked their location for as long as 12 days.

The scientists were interested in finding the upper limits of the homing skills of the frogs. They designed the test “fully expecting that no frogs from 800 meters will return home,” Pasukonis admitted. But “to our great astonishment,” he noted, 10 of the 12 total frogs made their way back, and this included the frogs who were released the farthest distance away.

What was most surprising, Pasukonis claimed, was that those frogs that were homing from a distance of a half-mile away from home were just as accurate as those that were homing only 200 meters away. “Most frogs pick the correct homeward direction from the beginning and continue in a close-to-straight line,” he added. Not all of them got back quickly—one male returned in less than two days, while some of the others required 11 days to return. And just two frogs needed to be rescued.