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Izecksohn's Brazilian Tree Frog: the First Amphibian Pollinator?

By Katie Kolcun

Frogs are known to provide a plethora of ecosystem services from controlling insect populations to indicating ecosystem health. But now one species of tree frog might have been observed doing something not previously documented in any other amphibian species: pollinating trees.

As the name implies, the Izecksohn's Brazilian tree frog (Xenohyla truncata) is endemic to the state of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. It’s classified as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and based on examinations of museum specimens, is one of the few amphibians known to feed on fruit. In an expedition to northeastern Brazil in December of 2020, a research team led by Brazilian herpetologist Carlos Henrique de-Oliveira-Nogueira observed the frogs not only feeding on the fruit of the Brazilian milk fruit tree (Cordia taguahyensi) but plunging into the flowers to dine on the high-energy nectar as well. When the frogs emerge from the flower, some of the pollen gets stuck on the frog’s back, potentially getting transported to the flowers of other milk fruit trees.

“We observed individuals entering large flowers and leaving covered in pollen without destroying the flower structures”, writes de-Oliveria-Nogueira. “This was the first time this behavior (actively seeking fruits and flowers) was seen and documented. Most frog species are carnivorous in their adult phase. Here, we confirmed how opportunistic X. truncata seems to be. It feeds on both insects and plants — apparently anything that is available for consumption.”

While de-Oliveria-Nogueria warns that more research is needed to confirm the frogs are indeed pollinating the trees, this behavior is an exciting discovery. It provides the threatened frog with much-needed visibility and documents a never-before-seen interaction between amphibians and plants. It also further demonstrates the complexity and interconnectedness of the natural world and the importance of preserving biodiversity hotspots like the Amazon rainforest.


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