Bug Blog

The Frog That Makes Its Own Insect Repellent

In the Amazon rainforest there lives a tiny frog, the Lithodytes lineatus, which runs a little under 2 inches in length at its max, which has what amounts to a kind of invisibility cloak that allows it to live amongst the deadly and very territorial leaf-cutter ants without being beaten to a pulp. It tends to live in piles of leaf litter, which happens to be very desirable real estate in the rainforest, particularly for the leaf-cutter ants. When scientists noticed that this tiny frog was somehow able to live amongst these ants unmolested, they decided to find out what exactly was protecting them from being attacked.

A team of researchers took four related species of frogs including the Lithodytes lineatus, and tested them against the onslaught of the leaf-cutter ants. After the initial tests where they left the frogs in open-mouthed glass containers near a leaf-cutter ant nest, they began to suspect that the Lithodytes lineatus were able to escape the ants notice by producing a recreation of the ants own pheromones, essentially making the frog “invisible” to the ants.

To test out this theory, the researchers then created an extract of this frog skin and bathed other completely unrelated frogs in the skin extract and set them near the leaf-cutter ants’ nest. None of the frogs bathed in the extract were bitten by the ants. Move on over Harry Potter, there’s a new magician in town!

Can you think of any other animals or insects with built in protection against other insects or animals?