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Wood Frogs and antifreeze

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Frogs are cold-blooded creatures, meaning they are subject to the temperatures of their environment. Dr Arthur White takes a look at how some frogs survive in extreme weather conditions. One - the Wood Frog is not Australian - but definitely worth a mention.
We are probably aware of Australian desert frogs that survive the extreme heat by constructing elaborate systems of tunnels and burrows under the desert floor. These frogs cut their metabolic rates and have a heartbeat of about one beat a minute.

We may also know something about the Corroboree frog that lives above the snowline and retreats into the centre of sphagnum to escape the cold temperatures.

But there are frogs in the northern hemisphere that do it much tougher and the best example is the Wood Frog from North America. The Wood Frog occurs in northern USA, through Canada and up to Alaska. Incredibly, there is no food for about eight month of the year, due to the harsh, cold, snowy conditions and even more incredibly the frog survives even though, as documentary evidence can attest, the frog seems frozen solid. Anatomical studies have looked at the tissues, outer skin and muscles and concluded that they do truly freeze.  However, the inner core of the frog, where its heart is located, does not freeze.

In fact, Wood Frogs manufacture a kind of antifreeze which also helps to keep them alive. Astoundingly, during the long winter freeze, the Wood Frog’s heart rate falls to one slow drawn out beat about once every half hour – just enough for it to survive.

When the thaw begins, so do the frogs. Damaged tissues and muscles, from the expanded frozen water inside the cells, are regenerated quickly, all in preparation for the big reward – a huge supply of insects when Spring arrives. The Wood Frog is there, ready to feast before other creatures who migrated away from the frozen land for winter have time to return.

With such an enormous harvest, the frogs have time to reproduce and the young to grow before Winter sets in - a truly bizarre quirk of nature.

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