Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

African amphibians make extreme parental sacrifice: the skin off their backs

18.04.2006


Just as baby mammals depend on their mothers ’ milk, the young of the African amphibian Boulengerula taitanus nourish themselves by stripping off and eating the fat-rich outer layer of their mothers ’ skin, according to an international team of researchers that includes University of Michigan biologist Ronald Nussbaum.



The findings are reported in today ’s issue (April 13) of the journal Nature.

Hatchlings of B. taitanus—a legless amphibian that looks something like an earthworm—are born with specialized teeth for peeling and eating skin. Their mothers ’ skin is specially modified to be particularly nutritious, and the young depend entirely on this food source for perhaps as long as four weeks, Nussbaum said.


"This form of post-hatching parental care, in which the mother provides nutrition to her hatchlings via her skin, has never been seen before in amphibians, and may be unique among vertebrates to this group of amphibians," said Nussbaum, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and a curator in the U-M Museum of Zoology. "Some cichlid fishes are known to provide their hatchlings with nutrition through skin secretions, but this does not include skin feeding."

Earlier observations of another species in the same order of amphibians foreshadowed the latest discovery. In the 1990s, the same research team found that newborn Siphonops annulatus had teeth and stayed with their mothers for some time after hatching. Those observations, coupled with the unusually pale skin color of mothers caring for young, led Nussbaum and colleagues to speculate that S. annulatus hatchlings fed on glandular secretions from the mother ’s skin, but the scientists never observed such behavior.

In the current study, the team collected 21 B. taitanus females along with their broods and put the animals into small, plastic boxes filled with soil to simulate natural nesting conditions. Then they observed and videotaped interactions between young and their mothers.

"We observed eight episodes of skin feeding by different young from five different broods, " Nussbaum said. "In each episode, the young moved over and around their mothers’ bodies, vigorously pressing their heads against their mothers while repeatedly opening and closing their mouths. They used their lower jaws to lift and peel the outer layer of the mother ’s skin. "

Studies of the females ’ skin revealed that the outer layer is up to twice as thick in brooding females as in non-brooding females and is full of nutritious fat.

Amphibians are a diverse lot when it comes to parental care, which may include hiding, guarding, carrying and feeding offspring. Among caecilians—the order of amphibians to which B. taitanus and S. annulatus belong—some lay yolky eggs and tend them until they hatch but invest no energy in feeding the young after hatching; others bear live young that fend for themselves after birth.

In those that bear live young, fetuses are equipped with specialized teeth—something like those of B. taitanus and S. annulatus—that are thought to be used for scraping secretions and cellular material from the lining of the mother ’s oviduct. The skin-feeding behavior seen in B. taitanus may represent an evolutionary intermediate between these two reproductive modes, Nussbaum said.

The discovery of this never-before-seen behavior also highlights the importance of conservation efforts, Nussbaum said. "Concerns have been growing about amphibian populations that appear to be declining worldwide. Our discovery underscores the need for further studies to better document the amazing diversity of amphibian life history strategies and greater efforts to conserve it. "

Nussbaum collaborated on the research with Alexander Kupfer and Mark Wilkinson of the Natural History Museum in London, UK; Hendrik Muller of Leiden University in the Netherlands; Marta Antoniazzi and Carlos Jared of Laboratorio de Biologia Celular, Instituto Butantan in Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Hartmut Greven of the Institut fur Zoomorphologie und Zellbiologie der Heinrich-Heine-Universitat Dusseldorf in Dusseldorf, Germany.

The researchers received funding from the European Union and the Natural Environment Research Council.

Nancy Ross-Flanigan | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor

24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging

24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>