These Tiny Frogs Can’t Jump but They Try Very Hard

Scientists found that the inner ears of tiny frogs in Brazil are perhaps too tiny. Too tiny to help these small frogs jump well. They are actually perfectly fine at jumping. But they are terrible at landings—a key part of jumping. What the researchers call “a lack of postural control during jumping” is literally them tumbling end over end instead of landing gracefully.

Fluid-filled chambers, called a vestibular system, act like a gyroscope and help vertebrates balance. Humans have this same setup but it’s obviously smaller on frogs the size of pencil erasers. Turns out, it’s too small to do these pumpkin toadlets much good.

“They’re not jumping around a lot, and when they do, they’re probably not that worried about landing, because they’re doing it out of desperation,” co-author Edward Stanley said. “They get more benefits from being small than they lose from their inability to stick a landing.”

Boing Boing brought this interesting research and hilarious video to our attention. The peer-reviewed journal Science Advances published the research. Certainly there’s more to it, but someone’s literal scientific job is to put on lab gloves and prod the tiny toadlets into jumping. Just so they can film them looking stupid and publish it for the world to see. The research began as part of a project called oVert that is scanning museum specimens to create 3-D models so that educators and students can access them for free. 

A small orange frog mid-leap, seen from the side and the top
Essner Jr. et al/Science Advances

New species of this tiny, brightly colored toadlet are still being discovered. They are poisonous and advertise that with their bright coloration. Other ways to avoid being eaten include making yourself indispensable, like one species of frog does with its tarantula partner.  

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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