Tap, tap, tapping to the beat of an impossibly fast drummer : Faster than Gene Kelly tap dancing in the rain, many species of poison dart frogs tap their middle toes on their hind feet so rapidly it can look like a blur.

Three laboratories in different countries recently set up independently to understand why.

Their studies all suggest that the presence of prey influences toe-tapping, but the purpose of all that fancy footwork is still mysterious.

The research could help explain similar behavior in other frogs and toads, as dozens of species make some kind of toe or foot movement while hunting.

The latest study came from biologists at the University of Illinois of Urbana Champaign. The researchers observed colorful dyeing poison dart frogs tapping up to 500 times per minute, or more than three times as fast as Taylor Swift's '' Shake It Off.''

When the frogs saw fruit flies in a petri dish but could not reach them, they tapped less frequently. This suggests that the tapping could relate to their ability to capture their meal.

But the team also found that toe-tapping had no relationship to the frogs' success at catching prey. This ''kind of confused us, and that's what we're still thinking about,'' said Thomas Parrish, who worked on the study as an undergraduate with Eva Fischer, a biology professor.

Another hypothesis is that the toe-tapping vibrations could lure prey closer, similar to how turtles stick out their tongues to mimic worms and deep-sea angler fish attract meals with their glowing fishing-rod-like protrusion.

[Elizabeth Landau] 


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