There's a rainforest tree frog embryo that knows how to hit the exits early and hatch prematurely when it's feeling threatened, and a new study suggests the mechanism behind the magic.
In research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, scientists with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), in Panama City, Panama, offer an explanation for how the red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) manages to break free of its jelly-coated egg up to two days early if it's in danger.
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The red-eyed tree frog dwells in tropical rainforest trees. It deposits its eggs on leaves and branches dangling over water, in clumpy clusters of a few dozen eggs.
If all goes well, tadpoles will develop and hatch out of the eggs in a week or so and drop down into a pond or stream.
But, all doesn't always go well. Wasps and snakes love to make meals out of the eggs, and some embryos never get to be frogs.
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It's not all doom and gloom, though. The embryos are actually well attuned to their surroundings, especially vibrations that spell trouble.
"Most people think of embryos as fairly passive," said STRI research associate Karen Warkentin in a statement. "But evidence keeps accumulating that embryos of many species are actively engaged with their world, not only receiving information but also using it to do things that help them survive."
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That brings us to the embryo's escape artistry, and how the future frog avoids becoming a snack.
The STRI researchers captured the frog embryos on high-speed video as they performed their escape maneuvers.
In this video with a parrot snake, you can see how the embryos escape the cluster as the reptile feasts (Video credit: Michael S. Caldwell and Karen M. Warkentin):