Bioflourescing Amphibians


A biofluorescing Cranwell’s horned frog. Jennifer Lamb and Matt Davis

Thanks to Joanna Klein, as always:

Salamanders and Frogs Hide a Glowing Secret

Many amphibians — possibly all of them — are biofluorescent, according to a new survey.


A glowing dwarf siren… Jennifer Lamb and Matt Davis

Amphibians are half-landlubbers, half water-babies. They breathe through skin that is moist, warty, crested and in some cases, poisonous or hallucinogenic. Some wear dull, leaflike-camo patterns. Others sport Guy Fieri flames.

And as cute, gross, pretty, ugly, magical and witchy-named as these slip-sliding creatures may be, they’ve been hiding something in a secret, fluorescent world invisible to humans. Many amphibians, whether salamanders, frogs or their distant cousins — possibly all of them — glow, according to a survey published Thursday in Scientific Reports.


Jennifer Lamb and Matt Davis

“There is still a lot out there that we don’t know,” said Jennifer Lamb, a biologist who conducted the research with Matt Davis, both at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. “This opens up this whole window into the possibility that organisms that can see fluorescence — their world may look a lot different from ours.”

The study paves the way for new research into how or why amphibians possess this special adaptation, which has potential applications in medical technology and conservation.

Science has documented many biofluorescent animals including chameleons, corals, jellyfish, reef fish, sharks, scorpions, butterflies, budgies, parrots, penguins, puffins, sea turtles and even flying squirrels. But scientists have focused more on aquatic animals, and when testing terrestrial animals, mainly used UV light (like in the sun). But in some patches of forest and freshwater habitats where amphibians live, blue light can dominate just as it does in deep water. Could this be why so few amphibians were known to fluoresce?

To find out, the St. Cloud team grabbed a blue-light flashlight and cast it on salamanders they were already studying.

As they watched those babies glow green through filtered lenses, they wondered: How many other amphibians would also ignite?

They schlepped their tools from the lab to the field as well as Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.

“That was a lot of fun,” Dr. Lamb said. “Basically a bunch of scientists running around after dark in an aquarium with a lot of bright lights and fancy goggles.”…

Read the whole article here.

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