Home ---> Notes ---> article

(en español)

Lithodytes lineatus - the secretive ant frog that live in Atta cephalotes nests

- by Andreas Schlueter

On an oppressively hot November day in the year 1977 Andreas Schlueter heard a melodious tone that sounded like a recorder coming from the entrance to a leaf cutter ant (Atta cephalotes) nest. At first it was unclear what was making the noise. Is it possible that a frog was sitting in the middle of the "lion's den"? Schlueter let a microphone drop into the nest entrance. After 60 cm of cable he registered the maximum volume level, yet the secretive caller remained anonymous. The sounds came from the nest on both of the following days. Schlueter and his colleague cleared the entrance of the nest. Breathing in the fungus spores and the bites of the ants puts the two researchers out of action. They spent the rest of the day in their hammocks feeling nauseous and with a high fever. On the third day they were successful. They discovered a frog couple at the entrance of the nest that disappeared lightning fast into the nest. It was the species Lithodytes lineatus, of whose lifestyle nothing is known as yet.

How can a frog survive in the middle of ants that normally overcome any intruder? Schlueter determined that freshly caught Lithodytes lineatus smell like Maggi spice sauce. Do the ants recognize the frogs by their smell? Is the smell the key for entrance into the nest? Is this perhaps a symbiosis that we didn't know about before between leaf cutter ants and frogs? There are many advantages for the frog from the microclimate in the nest and protection from enemies. The ants profit from the frogs eating insect larvae that are parasitic to the nest. Leaf cutter ants were not in the stomachs of these frogs at any rate!

And yet why would the males call from the nests? A calling male normally signals his desire to mate in this way. Leaf cutter ants (proven for the type Atta sextens) create pathways to subterranean water supply (groundwater). Schlueter supposes that these water sources are the breeding ground for the Lithodytes lineatus.

North American scientists were recently able to confirm this theory. The tadpoles of this frog species feed on the spores that fall into the water from the fungi cultivated by the ants. The frog meanwhile carries the name "ant frog"."

- Reprinted with permission from Panguana.de.

Return to previous page

Web Site Author: A. Sunjian
Site Created 2003.10.11
Site Dedication