Why does this frog glow?

Herpetologists in South America have found the first fluorescent amphibian.

Vocabulary: fluorescence, bioluminescence, herpetologist, amphibian, photoreceptors

Next Generation Science Standards: PS4.B: Electromagnetic Radiation (NRC Framework 131–132), LS1.A: Structure and Function (NRC Framework 143–144), LS4.C: Adaptation (NRC Framework 164–165)

Common Core State Standards: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6–8.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9–10.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11–12.4

The Polka-dot Treefrog (Hypsiboas punctatus). Credit: Pavel Kirillov from St.Petersburg, Russia [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Amy Nordrum of IEEE Spectrum joins Ira to talk about the discovery of the world’s first fluorescent frog in South America. Not to be confused with bioluminescence, the light that this frog emits is first absorbed as short-wavelength electromagnetic radiation and then reemitted at a longer wavelength.

Audio Excerpt “A Fluorescent Frog” 3/17/2017. (Original Segment)

Print this segment transcript.

via Giphy

Student Questions

  • Amy Nordrum mentions that fluorescence is different from light that animals produce themselves, called bioluminescence. Based on the images above and interview, create a definition for fluorescence.
  • South American polka-dot tree frogs are nocturnal, which means that they are active at night. Why do you think they might fluoresce?
  • Based on this study, what would you want to explore or investigate about fluorescence in frogs?

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Additional Resources

Nowogrodzki, Anna. “First Fluorescent Frog Found.” Nature News. Nature Publishing Group, 13 Mar 2017.

Original Paper: Naturally occurring fluorescence in frogs. PNAS, 13 Mar 2017.