The Nurturing Habits of Poison Dart Frogs Provide Insights into Parental Behavior


Scientists are discovering that parental behavior across different species shares similar traits. This takes the evolutionary ties between species such as frogs, mammals, and other invertebrates even further back. In a new study on parenting, researchers zeroed in on the neural activity in three different species of parenting frogs.

Differences in Parenting Techniques

Most frog species are not present in the lives of their offspring once the eggs are laid. There are, however, some species of poison dart frogs that are very involved in parenting their young. These species actively look after and clean the eggs, while others carry the hatched tadpoles along in the water.

In the study reported in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers looked at the brain activity of three species of frogs that exhibit parenting behavior. To make sure the relevant caregiving areas of the brain were switched on, the frogs used in the study were caught while carrying out various parenting activities. The males play a more active parenting role in the Dendrobates tinctorius species, while females are responsible for taking care of the young in the Oophaga sylvatica species. The Ranitomeya imitator species have shared parenting responsibilities between the mother and father.

In total, 25 frogs from the three parenting poison dart frog species and 59 frogs from non-parenting species were used in the study. After they were killed, their brains were quickly extracted and frozen to capture the neural activity at the time. Using tissue staining techniques, the scientists found that the nerve cells of the parenting frog specimens were turned on in the preoptic area of the brain. This was not the case for the non-parenting frogs. This area of the brain is associated with parenting and caregiving behavior in vertebrates, including amphibians and mammals. The study confirms the brain cell commonalities in diverse parenting species.

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