The O'Connell Lab maintains a colony of over 500 frogs. A frog colony allows us to research behavior and physiology within controlled environments and provides an essential teaching tool for undergraduates and K-12 students.
The Imitator Poison frog (Ranitomeya imitator) is a monogamous and biparental poison frog native to Peru. This species also represents a unique vertebrate example of Müllarian mimicry. This frog allows us to study the neural mechanisms of pair-bonding and biparental care by comparing it to other Ranitomeya species that do not show pair-bonding or tadpole care. We use the translucent tadpoles of this species to study the neural basis of begging behavior, which can give us important insights into how infants communicate their need for food.
The Little Devil Poison Frog (Oophaga sylvatica) from Colombia and Ecuador displays female uniparental care, where females transport tadpoles on their back and place them individually into pools of water in plants. The mom then visits the tadpole every few days to lay unfertilized eggs for the tadpole to eat. Females not only need to remember where they placed each of their tadpoles, but also to feed them every couple of days, as tadpoles can only survive on eggs from their mother. This complex behavior continues until the tadpole completes metamorphosis. This species is an important model system for cognitive ecology of space use and nursing behavior. We conduct extensive field work with this species in addition to having them in the lab.
The Dyeing Poison Frog (Dendrobates tinctorius) displays male uniparental care, where males transport the tadpole from the leaf litter to a pool of water. Females in this species are large and aggressive to territory intruders. Tadpoles are cannibalistic and will fight when housed together. We study male parental care and female and tadpole aggression in this species.
The Golden Poison Frog (Mantella aurantiaca) is from Madagascar. The frogs are brightly colored and carry similar alkaloid toxins to those found in South American poison frogs. The Mantellid clade represents an independent origin of chemical defences. We use this frog as a comparison system to South American poison frogs to gain insights into how amphibians have changed their physiology to aquire chemical defenses from their diet.
The Northern Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium fleischmanni) has a wide distribution throughout Central and South America. These frogs blend into leaves where they sleep and defend their egg clutches. We use this frog to study the evolution of ventral transparency, the neural basis of parental care, and embryo decision-making.