Piggybacking Pollywogs

by Perry Mcdorman on July 1, 2013
Audio Version

The remote forests of Central America are home to little amphibians that go to great lengths to ensure their next clutch of offspring survives.

You probably know that God created many birds and mammals with incredible parenting skills. But you may be amazed what effort a tiny amphibian from the remote forests of Central America makes to ensure its offspring’s survival.

Many frog species simply lay their eggs in water and leave the scene. Any eggs that don’t get eaten hatch into tadpoles that must fend for themselves. Not so with the poison dart frogs of Central and South America! Devoted parents, they remain with the eggs until they hatch. Since they lay their eggs out of the water, they keep coming back to ensure that the eggs stay moist. Once the eggs hatch, either one or both parents carry the tadpoles on their backs to a nearby water hole, where the young complete development.

His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.
Strawberry poison dart frog moms take parenting to an even higher level. Laying fewer eggs than most frogs, they invest considerable time and energy to make sure their three to nine tadpoles survive. Such dedication is no accident.

Before the female lays eggs, however, a male suitor courts her by calling. Only males call—a surprisingly loud vocalization for such a tiny frog. If she shows interest, the female follows him, as he continues to call, to an egg-laying site of his choosing, often at the end of a leaf.

After the eggs are laid and fertilized, for the next seven to twelve days the father diligently keeps the eggs moist until they hatch. He must. If they dry out, they won’t survive. When the eggs hatch, the father’s role is finished, and the mother takes over “child-rearing.”

First, the mother squats down and allows a single tadpole to wiggle up onto her back. Then she searches low and high for a suitable small body of water in which to place her youngster. Sometimes she already seems to have a place in mind. Other times she will carry the tadpole around for days until she finds just the right spot.

When she finds that perfect place—often a rain-filled leaf “axil” (the upper angle between a leaf and the stem) of a bromeliad plant—she backs into the “pool,” and the tadpole takes its first swim. The mother knows enough to put only one tadpole in each pool, a good thing since the stronger siblings might cannibalize the weaker ones.

Next, this “super mom” does something that is truly extraordinary. She somehow remembers or senses where she dropped off each tadpole. For six to eight weeks, she regularly revisits them—often every day—to lay unfertilized eggs for her youngsters to eat, their only source of nourishment until their metamorphosis is complete.

God’s awesome care can be seen everywhere, even in the remote forests of Central America, where lowly strawberry poison dart frogs faithfully care for their young.

His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20).

Perry McDorman earned his bachelor of science degree in biology from Milligan College. He is the Creation Museum naturalist and maintains the indoor live exhibits at the museum, including the poison dart frog exhibit.

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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.