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Brilliant-thighed Poison Frogs Use Spatial Mapping to Find Their Way Home

Poison dart frogs are not only some of the most colorful species in the amphibian world, they apparently can find their way back to their home territo

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Poison dart frogs are not only some of the most colorful species in the amphibian world, they apparently can find their way back to their home territory with the use of spatial mapping. 

Researchers with the Femoralis Project and the University of Vienna attached transmitters to 46 male brilliant-thighed poison frogs (Allobatis femoralis) to determine if they could use memory to find their way back to their home territory in the rain forests of French Guyana. That territory averaged  13.9 square metres (150 square feet). They were then packed into airtight containers with rotating rod magnets to prevent them from using any sensory capabilities to find their way home. One group was moved to a place that was similar to their home range, while another was moved to the other side of a river. The scientists then began tracking the frogs and found that those left in habitat that was near their territorial range were easily able to return to their own home range, while those moved across the river, in territory that they were apparently unfamiliar with were not able to find their way home. 


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Those frogs returning to their territory from within their own habitat often took a very direct route to their territory over the course of more than 7 days. The researchers think that the results indicates that the successful frogs most likely used spatial maps to find their way. The other frogs, in unfamiliar territory were not successful in finding their way back to their home territory.

"The fact that the frogs choose a direct path home (during the experiment) when released in their local area, but are disorientated in an unfamiliar area demonstrates that experience with local areas is necessary for successful homing," the authors wrote in their paper. 


This notion of the use of spatial mapping is bolstered by the fact that male brilliant-thighed poison frogs bring their offspring from their nesting areas to locations outside their home turf, sometimes more than 185 meters (More than 200 yards) from their home territory covering large swaths of forest. And these actions are likely due to the creation of a spatial map so the frogs can find their way. The complete paper can be found on the Biology Letters website

John B. Virata keeps a western hognose snake, a ball python, two corn snakes, a king snake, and two leopard geckos. His first snake, a California kingsnake, was purchased at the Pet Place in Westminster, CA for $5. His first pet reptile was a green anole that arrived in a small box via mail order. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata