Glow in the Dark Polka Dots: World's First Fluorescent Frog Found in South America

Posted by Amber King
fluorescent frog
BBC/Carlos Taboada

The South American polka dot frog isn't uncommon, but no one knew about this uncommon characteristic.

Fluorescence is the ability to absorb short-wavelength electromagnetic radiation and then reemit that light at longer wavelengths. It's a phenomenon previously observed in fish, coral, and one species of sea turtle, but finding it in a terrestrial animal is exceptionally rare.

In fact, the South American polka dot frog (Hypsiboas punctatus) is the world's first known naturally fluorescent amphibian. A paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes how researchers in Argentina shone a UVA flashlight over the frog to discover its amazing secret. Co-author of the paper, Norberto Peporine Lopes, told Huffington Post:

"When we trained a UVA flashlight, or black light, on specimens of H. punctatus, the entire animal gave off an intense greenish-blue glow. "

The discovery is made even more remarkable because, as Lopes puts it, the scientific process resulting in the frog's fluorescence is "new chemistry." The amphibian has a unique group of molecules that appear to be responsible for the glow. Found in the frog's lymph tissue, skin, and glandular secretions, the molecules have a ring structure that hasn't been found in any other animal with fluorescent ability. The closest scientists have gotten to finding its match is in plants.

fluorescent frog
Inhabitat/Carlos Taboada

The reason behind why the frog glows is still unknown. Scientists speculate that the frogs may use their unique ability for communication--especially when looking for mates. According to Lopes, the light emitted by one frog would be especially impressive to another frog's eyes. An article published on Nature states;

"The newly described fluorescent molecules emit a surprising amount of light, providing about 18% as much visible light as a full moon--enough for a related species of frog to see by."

Now that the first florescent amphibian has been discovered, scientists are eager to learn if there are more. Nature reports that there are about 250 other species of frogs that have translucent skin similar to the polka dot tree frog. Julian Faivovich, another co-author of the original paper told Nature:

"I'm really hoping that other colleagues will be very interested in this phenomenon, and they will start carrying a UV flashlight to the field."

What do you thinking about this glowing frog? Let us know in the comments.

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Glow in the Dark Polka Dots: World's First Fluorescent Frog Found in South America