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MONTRAL, November 21, 2011 Natural selection has played a role in the development of the many skins patterns of the tiny Ranitomeya imitator poison dart frog, according to a study that will be published in an upcoming edition of American Naturalist by University of Montreal biologist Mathieu Chouteau. The researcher's methodology was rather unusual: on three occasions over three days, at two different sites, Chouteau investigated the number of attacks that had been made on fake frogs, by counting how many times that had been pecked. Those that were attacked the least looked like local frogs, while those that came from another area had obviously been targeted.
The brightly coloured frogs that we find in tropical forests are in fact sending a clear message to predators: "don't come near me, I'm poisonous!" But why would a single species need multiple patterns when one would do? It appears that when predators do not recognize a poisonous frog as being a member of the local group, it attacks in the hope that it has chanced upon edible prey. "When predators see that their targets are of a different species, they attack. Over the long term, that explains how patterns and colours become uniform in an area," said Bernard Angers, who directed Chouteau's doctoral research.
A total of 3,600 life-size plasticine models, each less than one centimetre long, were used in the study. The menagerie was divided between two carefully identified sites in the Amazon forest. "The trickiest part was transporting my models without arousing suspicion at the airport and customs controls," Chouteau said. He chose plasticine following a review of scientific literature. "Many scientists have successfully used plasticine to create models of snakes, salamanders and poison dart frogs." The Peruvian part of the forest pr
|Contact: William Raillant-Clark|
University of Montreal