Pro Bullfrog Jumpers' Secrets Revealed

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Bullfrogs like Rosie the Ribeter have astounded scientists with their jumping ability, and now a new study reveals how these star frogs kick amphibian butt in jumping contests.

It turns out that we have underestimated frog jumping ability, and also that jockeys — the enthusiastic people who enter the frogs in contests — employ some clever tricks. There’s even something akin to frog whispering.

Henry Astley, a researcher at Georgia Tech University, concluded that after spending time studying how prize-winning bullfrogs and other frogs jump.

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“Several of the people mentioned to us that the frog knows the will of the jockey,” Astley said in a press release. “Their point was the frog senses whether you are a scientist hoping it’s going to jump well or a deadly reptilian-like predator who is going to eat it.”

Astley and his colleagues also found that jockeys capture a lot of frogs and isolate the best jumpers out of the bunch. They don’t train the frogs, but they do keep them warm — at around 84 degrees F — at the contests.

To spur their frogs into action, the jockey pros also often rub their frogs’ legs and drop them slightly to the ground at the start.

They may also lunge after them, head first, to get the frog’s “fight or flight” instincts going. I’m guessing that the poor frogs are pretty freaked out by the whole thing, but the contests are short. Hopefully the jumpers receive good treatment off the track.

Rosie the Ribeter entered the Guinness Book of World Records for jumping close to 7 feet in a single hop. Lengths like that puzzled Astley and other biologists, such as Thomas Roberts of Brown University. They knew that scientific studies had never documented bullfrogs jumping father than 4.2 feet.

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“It was sort of shocking; we worried about it,” Roberts said. “Maybe we were missing something, but we also had a little bit of uncertainty and skepticism.”

For a study published in the latest Journal of Experimental Biology, Roberts, Astley and colleagues measured a bunch of frog jumps.

“We had to run out to the hardware store and grab all of their PVC pipes and joints,” explained Astley. “We were sitting there with a hacksaw in the parking lot.”

In all, 3,124 bullfrog jumps were recorded, with “professional” jockey frogs averaging nearly 5 feet. One frog that was videotaped even broke Rosie’s record by jumping 7.2 feet.

The researchers suspect 7.2 feet is about as long as a bullfrog can jump. It matches their theoretical predictions based on frog muscle force and energy, and jump velocity and angle.

But records are made to be broken! Time will tell if other frogs — at competitions like the famous Calaveras County Jumping Frog Jubilee – will continue to leap into the record books.

Image: Roberts Lab/Brown University