Amazing animals: Wallace’s Flying Frog

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Most animals really are amazing in their own right. They are a product of evolution and each has its own remarkable aspects.  But sometimes we see animals that have gone out on an extreme. One such ability is the capacity to fly, or at least glide, for non avian (AKA birds) species. In terrestrial species gliding is utilized as a way of moving around forest ecosystems, and can be observed in a few mammals, some reptiles and also amphibians.

It kind of makes sense that gliding would evolve as a movement strategy in some animals living in tall forest ecosystems, particularly if the tree canopies are not always connected. It is probably much easier to get up high and glide to the next tree rather than walk all the way down the tree and then amble along the ground to the next tree (Assuming you have the capacity to do so).  Evolution is a funny thing, but often leads to interesting solutions to common problems, albeit over extremely long periods of time. Keep in mind that gliding as an end point was probably not the driver for evolution of particular characteristics, but a consequence resulting from some other adaptation (e.g. webbed feet for swimming).

One such species which we encountered last year whilst in Borneo on our study tour for SLE353 was Wallace’s flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus). This species is named after its discoverer Alfred Russel Wallace the famous 19th century biologist who spent considerable time in Borneo and south east Asia investigating ideas around what drives species distributions and how species evolve. Wallace and Darwin actually came to similar conclusions around the ideas of evolution and co-authored a paper on the topic. Unfortunately for Wallace, history shows the fame went to Darwin, but the work of Wallace is still influential in describing global species distributions and patterns. You have to feel sorry for Wallace, in a different World we may have been talking about Wallacean evolution!

So, back to our amazing animal! Wallace’s flying frog is a large frog and is distributed in Borneo and peninsula Malaysia. Whilst its common name would suggest it is capable of flying, in reality, it glides by spreading the membranes out between the toes on all four feet (see pictures above). By spreading all legs out it is able to glide between trees or from the canopy down to water holes for breeding. Another name for the species is a parachute frog which probably is more realistic of their flying capabilities. Not only is it an interesting frog because it can glide, it is a very lovely looking frog which seemed happy enough to pose for photos for us.

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