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Adhesion and allometry from metamorphosis to maturation in hylid tree frogs: a sticky problem


Joanna M. Smith, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK. Tel: 44-141-330-4434


Many species of climbing frog possess large disc-like digital pads, which facilitate adhesion. The consensus of earlier studies is that frogs depend on a wet adhesive mechanism, chiefly influenced by pad area and surface tension properties of the mediating adhesive fluid. The relationship between morphology, size and adhesion is of particular interest for tree frogs, because evolution of adhesive ability has facilitated niche expansion into arboreal habitats. If frogs are geometrically similar, and growth occurs isometrically, then mass will increase at a higher rate than toe-pad area, and an adhesive system directly dependent on area may be adversely affected. We investigated scaling of adhesive ability with ontogeny in seven species of hylid tree frog to test whether the responses to the challenges of maintaining adhesion with growth were sufficient to allow adult frogs to stick as effectively on smooth substrates as juvenile frogs. In all species, mass increased at a lower rate than expected with isometric growth. This was less pronounced in larger species, perhaps owing to the demands of locomotory modes such as jumping. In smaller hylids, this non-isometric increase in mass was sufficient to enable adult frogs to adhere as effectively as juveniles. In larger species, however, the ability of adult frogs to adhere was significantly lower than that of juveniles, despite evidence of increased toe-pad efficiency. Within all species adhesive forces increased at a greater rate than toe-pad area, suggestive of changes in the relative influence of the contributory components of the wet adhesive mechanism with growth.

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