Magazine article Science News

Frogs Borrow Poison for Skin from Ants

Magazine article Science News

Frogs Borrow Poison for Skin from Ants

Article excerpt

After more than 30 years of research, scientists have found a source from which poison frogs can acquire a major group of chemical weapons. In a survey of possible frog foods in Panama, the toxins turned up in formicine ants, the subfamily that includes wood ants and carpenter ants.

Researchers have found dietary sources for some other types of frog toxins, but the ant analysis marks the first potential supply of a widespread and large family of alkaloids called pumiliotoxins, says John Daly of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, Md. Until Daly's frog-diet surveys, the only known natural pumiliotoxins came from frog skin, Daly and his colleagues explain in an upcoming issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's not unexpected, but it's terrific that he's done this," says Michael Tyler of the University of Adelaide in Australia. Tyler's lab analyzes a wide range of frog-skin compounds and is tracking dietary sources of frogs' mosquito repellents.

Frog skins offer a magnificent diversity of chemicals, including 24 structural groups of some 500 alkaloids, which are organic compounds containing nitrogen. Several frog species pack a toxin more potent than that of a puffer fish, but other flogs simply deliver a vile taste. At first, researchers had guessed that the amphibians themselves manufacture the toxins, but frogs raised in captivity on toxinfree diets almost never make alkaloids. …

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