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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Note on Emerging Science

Air Date: Week of

Some animals use sticks, leaves or mud to build durable nests. The Tungara frog uses bubbles. Living on Earth’s Bridget Macdonald reports on how scientists are studying frog foam in order to make a similar material for medicinal use.



MACDONALD: Think “foam” and your mind may wander to the melt-in-your-mouth topping on a cappuccino, but for some frog species, foam is a tough, protective shield for their young. Now researchers are trying to replicate frog foam for medicinal use.

The foam nests made by Túngara frogs in Central America may look delicate, but they’re known for their strength: they withstand high heat, bright sunlight, and bacteria, and stay intact until the tadpoles inside are ready to break free.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow are studying footage of the frogs to figure out how these small amphibians create such durable nests.

They discovered that the male frog collects a special fluid from the female, then kicks his legs up and down in short spurts to turn the liquid into a ball of bubbles. As the foam takes shape, the frog delicately adds the eggs, like a chef folding ingredients into cake batter.

The frog whips up more foam to put the finishing touch on the nest, kicking his legs about 200 times during the entire process.

Scientists are planning to use a similar technique to develop an anti-bacterial foam to treat burn victims. And it’s likely the synthetic version won't require kicking. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Bridget Macdonald.


Watch a male frog building a foam nest.



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