Leap Critters

March 2, 2012

Rheanna Sand

Leap Day was this past Wednesday... what did you do to celebrate? Did you give birth to your third consecutive Leap Day child like this Utah woman? Ladies, did you follow this old Irish tradition and propose to your man? Didn't think so. But if you belonged to either of these newly-described species, you might have actually spent Leap Day, well, leaping.


Saltoblattella montistabularis was first described late last year in an article in the Royal Society's Biology Letters by Mike Picker and colleagues. If you know latin, you can guess what this creature is... "salto-" meaning jumping or leaping, and "blatta" meaning cockroach. Yes, it's the world's first "leaproach," discovered in South Africa. Saltoblattella looks and acts like a perfect cross between a grasshopper and a cockroach, and competes with grasshoppers in it's native habitat. This fascinating/terrifying species can leap a distance almost 50 times the length of it's own body with a takeoff velocity of 2.1 metres per second, giving it an incredible range of distance to land in your hair or down your shirt. Here's hoping they don't make it into the New York subway system.


YouTube/davesciwriter (video courtesy of Mike Picker)

You're welcome for that.

Now to calm your heebie-jeebies, another new leaping species is almost as cute as the tiny, matchstick-sized lizards found in Madagascar that have been making the rounds on the web recently. The frog Paedophryne swiftorum (not be confused with Paedophryne santorum, found in a frothy mixture of... never mind) is among the smallest known frogs on the planet. Found in New Guinea, this diminutive anuran (just a fancy word for frog) represents yet another extreme case of island dwarfism.


Rittmeyer et al (2011) (PLoS One)


Tiny vertebrates keep popping up in these remote, isolated jungle locales, as they have carved out an ecological niche in the moist leaf litter on the rainforest floor. Reserchers are interested in studying them because they provide information on just how far the vertebrate body plan can be scaled down. For instance, mini-creatures will often have reduced numbers of digits (fingers and toes) or have single fused bones where larger vertebrates have many (like within each finger). Interestingly, 23 of the 29 miniature frog species do not go through a tadpole stage, which may be a factor in their becoming mini in the first place.


I just hope this doesn't give cat and dog breeders any ideas. Teacup poodles are far enough, I think.


Happy Belated Leap Day!



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