Resurrecting an extinct, odd frog, using an Ig Nobel winner’s discovery

Ed Yong reports on Mike Archer‘s ambitious project to resurrect — so to speak — an unusual species of frog that went extinct not long ago. The frog’s oddity was researched, and reported in 1981, by Mike Tyler, who later was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for studying and cataloguing odd smells produced by different frogs. Detail about the new project:

Archer’s goal is simple: To bring the extinct gastric brooding frog back from oblivion and, in doing so, provide hope for the hundreds of other frogs that are heading that way. Getting the embryo was a milestone and Archer is buoyantly optimistic that he’ll cross the finish line soon. Lazarus, he says, will rise again.

The southern gastric brooding frog (Rheobatrachus silus) was discovered in 1972 in the mountains of Queensland, Australia. But the world only took notice of it in 1974 when Mike Tyler discovered how it reproduced.

Simply put, the mother frog converts her stomachs into a womb. She swallows her own eggs and stops making hydrochloric acid in her stomach to avoid digesting her own young. Around 20 to 25 tadpoles hatch inside her and the mucus from their gills continues to keep the acid at bay. While the tadpoles grow over the next six weeks, mum never eats. Her stomach bloats so much that her lungs collapse, forcing her to breathe through her skin. Eventually, she gives birth to her brood through “propulsive vomiting”, spewing them into the world as fully-formed froglets.

When news broke about this weird strategy, other scientists were incredulous….

Here’s detail from Mike Tyler’s 1981 study:


Detail about Mike Tyler’s Ig Nobel Prize: The 2o05 Ig Nobel Prize in biology was awarded to

Benjamin Smith of the University of Adelaide, Australia and the University of Toronto, Canada and the Firmenich perfume company, Geneva, Switzerland, and ChemComm Enterprises, Archamps, France; Craig Williams of James Cook University and the University of South Australia; Michael Tyler of the University of Adelaide; Brian Williams of the University of Adelaide; and Yoji Hayasaka of the Australian Wine Research Institute; for painstakingly smelling and cataloging the peculiar odors produced by 131 different species of frogs when the frogs were feeling stressed.

REFERENCE: “A Survey of Frog Odorous Secretions, Their Possible Functions and Phylogenetic Significance,” Benjamin P.C. Smith, Craig R. Williams, Michael J. Tyler, and Brian D. Williams, Applied Herpetology, vol. 2, no. 1-2, February 1, 2004, pp. 47-82.

REFERENCE: “Chemical and Olfactory Characterization of Odorous Compounds and Their Precursors in the Parotoid Gland Secretion of the Green Tree Frog, Litoria caerulea,” Benjamin P.C. Smith, Michael J. Tyler, Brian D. Williams, and Yoji Hayasaka, Journal of Chemical Ecology, vol. 29, no. 9, September 2003.

One Response to “Resurrecting an extinct, odd frog, using an Ig Nobel winner’s discovery”

  1. jodan447 Says:

    Glad to know IG Nobel is serious about frogs.

    Many species of frogs are on the verge of extinction in Massachusetts presumably by fatal skin diseases caused by infection of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.
    I have not seen frogs in nature around Boston area for recent several years.
    Looking forward to seeing Keromin again at the 2013 IG ceremony.

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