Near infrared reflectance in Anura

  • Christopher Blount

Student thesis: Phd


Increased near infrared (NIR) reflection, closely resembling the red edge found in leaves, has been known in frogs for many years. Whereas previously thought of as an isolated rarity, we have shown that it is likely far more prevalent than previously believed, occurring in multiple distinct family groups and world regions. To date, there are now 26 anuran species known to demonstrate increased NIR reflectance, from 12 different genera, 4 families, and 3 ecozones. The visible/NIR reflection spectra of each individual measured was found to be characteristic of its species; whether it was wild or captive bred; and its sex. A machine learning based classification system was demonstrated as a viable method of identifying these properties from a frog's reflection spectra alone. How this reflection spectra developed from a pre-metamorphosis froglet through to adult frog was tracked, with the gradual changes to the reflection spectra of both NIR reflective and other frogs identified as being most likely dominated by the reduction in epidermal melanophores, and the increasing number of dermal iridophores. A modified consumer camera was shown to be a viable method for rapid identification of increased NIR reflection in anurans, and was used to identify that salamanders also show variation in NIR reflection between ground dwelling and leaf sitting species. The overnight colour change in Hylomantis lemur was observed, and found to occur pre-emptively of the frog's future location; with the frogs regularly transitioning from pale green ‘daytime' colouration, to the dark brown ‘night time' colouration, while still on the green leaf surface before becoming active, and undertaking the reverse transition while still active, but shortly before returning to the leaf. It seems likely that this change is for protection from silhouetting whilst active. Optical coherence tomography images were taken of several species of frog, and found to be a viable method for non-invasive investigation of anuran skin structure, with structural differences observed between the two colourations of H. lemur. It was found that the most likely cause of the increased NIR reflection in frogs is a reduction in melanin, either by absence or substitution with pterorhodin. Although the true benefit to the frog is difficult to determine, it seems likely that cryptic thermoregulation plays a key role: the maintenance of body temperature for the purpose of camouflage from animals capable of far-infrared vision. This thesis demonstrates the legitimacy of several techniques and approaches for non-invasive study of anurans, but the ultimate scope of the project is fundamentally limited by the range of frogs available. Further insight is likely to arise from increasing this scope, applying these techniques to more frogs, from more species, in more regions, and the author wishes all future researchers the greatest success in this endeavour.
Date of Award31 Dec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAndrew Gray (Supervisor) & Mark Dickinson (Supervisor)


  • frog
  • thermoregulation
  • colour change
  • OCT
  • color change
  • near infrared
  • machine learning
  • classification
  • pterorhodin
  • red edge

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