A translucent frog hides its red blood cells while it sleeps: NPR

A translucent frog hides its red blood cells while it sleeps: NPR

A translucent frog hides its red blood cells while it sleeps: NPR

A translucent frog hides its red blood cells while it sleeps: NPR

A group of glass frogs sleeping upside down on a leaf, showing their camouflage.

Jesse Delia


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Jesse Delia

A group of glass frogs sleeping upside down on a leaf, showing their camouflage.

Jesse Delia

Jesse Delia says it happened in Panama. A few years ago, he was finishing his fieldwork – a research project investigating the parental behavior of a species of glass frog. He brought a handful of these half-dollar-sized transparent frogs to the lab for a photo shoot.

It led to an exciting discovery.

“I wanted to get some shots of a nice glass frog belly,” Delia tells NPR. He placed them in a petri dish and saw each frog’s circulatory system through its transparent skin – “red with red blood cells”.

But when he came back later, the frogs were asleep and the blood was “gone”.

It was as if the arteries and veins had just melted away. “I thought it was crazy,” recalls Delia, now a biologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

He took a video of the glass frog’s pumping heart and sent it to his longtime collaborator, Carlos Taboada, a biologist at Duke University.

“It was colorless,” says Taboada. Not even the telltale red streak of a barrel in the frog’s belly was visible. “It was insane. I had never seen anything like it.”

Both Delia and Taboada wanted to know: where did all the frogs’ red blood go?

In a new paper in the journal ScienceTaboada, Delia and their collaborators offer an answer: “They hide most of their red blood cells in their liver,” Delia explains.

The same glass frog photographed during sleep (left) and while active (right), showing the difference in red blood cell circulation.

Jesse Delia


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Jesse Delia

The same glass frog photographed during sleep (left) and while active (right), showing the difference in red blood cell circulation.

Jesse Delia

During the day, while the glass frogs sleep on green leaves, they are vulnerable to predators, so they camouflage by turning super transparent. (Their livers, among other organs, are covered in highly reflective white crystals.) Because their red blood cells carry very little oxygen, Delia says the frogs likely have “an alternative process that allows them to keep their cells alive during transparency.” Then, at night, when the frogs become active, “feeding and mating, going about their normal business,” the vitreous amphibians release their red blood cells back into the bloodstream.

Taboada says the frogs “pack about 90% of their red blood cells into a very, very small volume. Normally, those conditions can cause clotting disorders.” The researchers say knowing how the glass frogs avoid a blood clotting cascade could pave the way for new anticoagulant drugs for humans.



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