The Cable

More Good News: There Are Fluorescent Frogs in South America

Fluorescence was unheard of in amphibians until now.


The natural world is, at last, at peace.

No, no, just kidding. Hot on the heels of reports of radioactive boars in the Czech Republic and Japan, a group of Argentine, Brazilian, and German researchers have reported the first case of a fluorescent frog. The South American polka dot tree frog (Hypsiboas punctatus) was observed naturally giving off a bright blue and green glow under ultraviolet illumination.

Fluorescence is the ability to absorb short wavelengths of light and convert them into longer wavelengths that are sent back. According to the research team, fluorescence is rare in terrestrial animals and was unheard of in amphibians until now.

On land, only parrots and some scorpions have demonstrated fluorescence, and scientists are still puzzled by the reason behind why certain animals give off this light. Some have explained it as a communication method, a camouflage technique, or a simple mating trick (ladies love that glow).

To work, the absorbing surface must be exposed to light. This is what distinguishes fluorescence from bioluminescence, in which organisms generate their own light after internal chemical reactions. (Bioluminescence is the more common cousin: think fireflies, jellyfish, algae, and sharks).

The fluorescent molecules discovered in the tree frog emit as much as 18 percent of the visible light a full moon provides –a surprising amount considering the amphibious creature can fit in the palm of your hand.

“These findings open an exciting perspective into frog visual physiology and ecology and into the role of fluorescence in terrestrial environments, where classically it has been considered irrelevant,” wrote the researchers. Yes, exciting is certainly one word to describe a previously undiscovered glowing phenomenon in our freakish world.

Photo credit: RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images

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