Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 70, Issue 12, pp 2195–2201 | Cite as

The frog Lithodytes lineatus (Anura: Leptodactylidae) uses chemical recognition to live in colonies of leaf-cutting ants of the genus Atta (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

  • André de Lima BarrosEmail author
  • Jorge Luis López-Lozano
  • Albertina Pimentel Lima
Original Article


Chemical-based mimicry and camouflage are known to be employed by invertebrate parasites of social insect colonies, but the use of this strategy by vertebrates to avoid being detected by social insects has received less attention. In this paper, we examine the hypothesis that frog Lithodytes lineatus has skin chemicals that imitate chemical recognition used by leaf-cutting ants of genus Atta. We show that individuals of Lithodytes lineatus were never attacked by the leaf-cutting ants of genus Atta, while 100 % of four other anuran species were. In addition, none of the ten individuals of frog Rhinella major coated with skin extracts of frog L. lineatus were attacked, whereas controls (coated with ultrapure water) were attacked on each occasion. Our results demonstrate that the skin of frog Lithodytes lineatus has chemicals that prevent the attack of both species of leaf-cutting ants, Atta laevigata and Atta sexdens.

Significance statement

In order to reduce the risk of predation, some frog species engage in commensal or mutualistic relationships with invertebrates, but associations between frogs and ants are rarely reported in literature. We show that frog Lithodytes lineatus are not attacked by ants Atta laevigata and A. sexdens; however, other frog species are aggressively attacked. Our results suggest that the biomolecules present in the frog skin are capable of inhibiting the attack of ants, allowing coexistence. This is the first study reporting the possible mechanism for association between frog L. lineatus and ants of genus Atta.


Chemical recognition Ant Atta laevigata Atta sexdens Lithodytes lineatus 



The Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisas do Estado do Amazonas (FAPEAM) provided funds through the Programa de Apoio a Núcleos de Excelência – PRONEX – 003/2009, process 653/2009. The Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA) and the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) provided a graduate scholarship to the first author. Santo Antônio Energia provided logistical support during field work in Rondônia. PhD. Fabricio Baccaro helped identify the ants. PhD. Adam Stow and PhD. William Magnusson made revisions and suggestions to the manuscript. Lucianne Cabral, Ingrid Guimarães, Diego Pires, Patrik Viana, Thais Dutra, Emerson Pontes, “Macuxi” and Taly Nayandra assisted in field work. PhD. Adrian Barnett helped with the English. The comments of two anonymous reviewers greatly improved this paper.

Compliance with ethical standards


This study was funded by the Fundação de Amparo a Pesquisas do Estado do Amazonas (FAPEAM) and provided funds through the Programa de Apoio a Núcleos de Excelência – PRONEX – 003/2009, process 653/2009 and the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) provided a graduate scholarship to the first author.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical approval

The permissions that are required for the realization of experiments in this study were obtained through the Commission of Ethics in the Use of Animals (CEUA) of the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA/CEUA, Protocol: 034/2014). All individuals of Adenomera spp., Allobates femoralis, Ameerega picta and Rhinella major used in the experiments were released after the experiment. They had no visible injuries and showed no signs of distress. These species naturally and frequently interact with Atta species in the wild.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • André de Lima Barros
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jorge Luis López-Lozano
    • 2
  • Albertina Pimentel Lima
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EcologyInstituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia–INPAManausBrazil
  2. 2.Core of poisonous animalsFundação de Medicina Tropical do Amazonas–FMT/AMManausBrazil

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