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Motherly poison frogs shed light on maternal brain

Image of a climbing mantella tadpole with a recently laid unfertilized egg
Alexandre Roland
Nov 21 2019

A team led by Assistant Professor Lauren O'Connell is using rare poison frogs that nurse their young as a way to help answer a fundamental question: Is there more than one way to build a maternal brain?

In a new study published Nov. 21 in the journal Current Biology, the O'Connell lab report that the nutritious eggs two species of poison frogs, the Little Devil frog of Ecuador and the Climbing Mantella of Madagascar, feed their hatchlings are also laced with poisons, likely as a way of passing chemical defenses on to the next generation. “This egg provisioning strategy is a way for these frogs to chemically defend their offspring sooner,” said O’Connell.

By comparing the brains of the two frogs with each other and with mammals, the researchers also discovered new clues that have bearing on an even greater biological mystery: the neural basis of motherhood itself.