Poison Frogs Have a Strange Behavior That Scientists Seek to Explain

Faster than Gene Kelly tap-dancing in the rain, many species of poison dart frogs tap their middle toes on their hind feet so rapidly it can look like a blur.

Look at that toe go. Video by Parrish and Fisher.CreditCredit…

Three laboratories in different countries recently set out independently to understand why. Their studies all suggest that the presence of prey influences these frogs’ toe-tapping, but the purpose of all that fancy footwork is still mysterious. The research could help explain similar behavior in other frogs and toads, as dozens of species make some kind of toe or foot movement while hunting.

The latest study, which was posted online last month but has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, came from biologists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The researchers observed colorful dyeing poison dart frogs tapping up to 500 times per minute, or more than three times as fast as Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”

Dyeing poison frogs can tap those toes up to 500 times per minute.Credit…Jon G. Fuller/VWPics, via Associated Press

When the frogs saw fruit flies in a petri dish but could not reach them, they tapped less frequently. This suggests that the tapping could relate to their ability to capture their meal.

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