shape-shifting frog
March 24, 2015

Scientists discover shape-shifting frog in Ecuador

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - @ParkstBrett

X-men fans know that Mystique has the ability to change her shape in order to mimic someone else, and now it appears scientists have found a frog with a similar shape-shifting ability.

According to a study published this week in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, a frog living in Ecuador's western Andean cloud forest dubbed Pristimantis mutabilis can change the texture of its skin to conform to the texture it’s sitting on.

Punk rocker in the rainforest

Conservation researchers Katherine and Tim Krynak first spotted P. mutabilis, or mutable rainfrog, sitting on a moss-covered leaf. The Krynaks said they had seen the frog before, but his time they captured it and stuck it in a cup with a lid. They dubbed the frog “punk rocker” because of the thorny nubs covering its body, like the spikes of a punk rock haircut.

The following day, they took the frog from the cup and put it on a smooth plastic sheet for photographs. However, the “punk rock” spikes seemed to have disappears from the frog’s body. The couple figured they had pick up the wrong frog by mistake.

"I then put the frog back in the cup and added some moss," Katherine Krynak said. "The spines came back... we simply couldn't believe our eyes, our frog changed skin texture!”

"I put the frog back on the smooth white background. Its skin became smooth,” she added.

Krynak speculated that the changing skin texture must serve the same purpose as the color-changing ability of chameleons.

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"The spines and coloration help them blend into mossy habitats, making it hard for us to see them," she said. "But whether the texture really helps them elude predators still needs to be tested."

Further studies

In the study, research did look into the texture-changing ability and found that it takes P. mutabilis about three minutes to shift skin textures. The study team also tested a relative of P. mutabilis called Prismantis sobetes to see if it had the same ability and sure enough – it did.

The study team noted that this finding challenges the idea of classifying animals based solely on limited observations. For example, species represented by only limited and preserved specimens may be able to change shape, but we’re currently unaware of that ability.

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The study team said they plan to test other close relative of the mutable rainfrog to see if they also have previously overlooked shape-shifting abilities.

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