Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on the discovery that frogs use audio cues to flee fire.
CURWOOD: Coming up, greening the city. First, this page from the Animal Notebook with Maggie Villiger.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
VILLIGER: When fire approaches, most animals flee or try to seek shelter. Scientists assume visual cues, the smell of smoke or perhaps the heat of the fire tell an animal to head for safety. All these warning signs are useful over relatively short distances, and work best for large animals that are able to move fast and far.
But researchers knew that a small amphibian called the Reed Frog can also detect the threat of fire. And they suspected another sense might be involved. So the scientists snuck up on individual frogs as they rested in the midday sun of the West African Savannah, and played them recordings of fire. Heres what the frogs heard.
[SOUND OF CRACKLING FIRE]
VILLIGER: This sound effect was like a blaring fire alarm for the Reed Frogs. Right away, they would lift their heads, scan their surroundings, and start hopping toward a tall tree or dense bushes, whatever would be the closest refuge.
A few months later, toward the end of the dry season, scientists repeated the experiment and discovered frogs were now less likely to flee the sound of fire. They think its because by the end of the dry season, the frogs are extremely weak. Any action that expends extra energy, such as hopping into a tree, means almost certain death for the frogs.
Researchers are now investigating what influences a frogs choice whether to run from fire or stay put and take his chances. Thats this weeks Animal Note. Im Maggie Villiger.
CURWOOD: And youre listening to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: BILL FRISELL, "LONESOME," RARUM, ECM, 2002]
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.
Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an autographed copy of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.