If You’ve Got a Frog Photo Fetish, the Australian Museum Wants You

If You’ve Got a Frog Photo Fetish, the Australian Museum Wants You
Google emojis. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

By chance, would you have any pictures of frogs on your phone?

UNSW and the Australian Museum are after photos of frogs (they don’t have to be your frogs). Specifically speaking, photos of frogs being bitten by flies. It’s a conservation thing.

“Rare frogs can be very hard to find during traditional scientific expeditions,” said Timothy Cutajar, a UNSW PhD student leading the project.

“Species that are rare or cryptic [inconspicuous] can be easily missed, so it turns out the best way to detect some species might be through their parasites.”

What does that mean? Well, see, some frogs species look the same. But, as the UNSW post explains, the blood sampled by specific parasites may contain genetic data. AKA, the type of fly having a nibble on the frog, the type of frog.

It’s a technique called “iDNA” (invertebrate-derived DNA). Cutajar and UNSW’s Doctor Jodi Rowley were the first to harness it for detective cryptic or threatened species of frogs. It could help identify new species or rediscover lost ones.

“Not unlike the premise of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, where the DNA of blood-meals past is contained in the bellies of the flies, Mr Cutajar was able to extract the drawn blood (and therefore DNA) and identify the species of amphibian the flies had recently fed on,” the post reads.

Cutajar added that he and his team will be combing through the photos of frogs submitted through the online survey link:

“If you’ve photographed frogs in Australia and are over 18, I’d love for you to closely examine your pictures, looking for any frogs that have flies, midges, or mosquitos sitting on them. If you find flies, midges or mosquitos in direct contact with frogs in any of your photos, please share them by submitting the photo and answering a few questions about it here. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rare frog on a mountain or a common one in your backyard – every observation will help! If you’re going out taking new photos, it’s good to remember there’s no need to touch or disturb the frog to get a useful shot – in fact, any parasites would likely fly away if disturbed! The power of collective action can be amazing for science, and with your help, we can kickstart a new era of improved detection, and therefore conservation, of our amazing amphibian diversity.”

The Australian Museum does love its frogs, with its FrogID app a perfect thing for understanding our little amphibious friends. Recently, UNSW announced that frogs were dying en masse in Australia, and the experts aren’t certain why.

You heard the man, send in your frog pictures!