Phyllomedusa sauvagii © Tom Thai/ Flickr

As any well-seasoned taxonomist—or, really, any man or woman of science—can tell you: the analogous venn diagram where amphibians circle one half and the other half by primates don’t rarely overlap. It’s an obvious inference. Western Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) don’t begin life as wriggling tadpoles; Eastern Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus a. alleganiensis) don’t suckle on their doting mother’s teat for nourishment. Those comparisons, however, are all around maturation; but there are some locomotive and anatomical overlaps after the fact—and into adulthood. Especially when the notion of hoping seems to problematic for some.

From Moats To Monkey Bars

Waxy Monkey Tree Frogs (Phyllomedusa sauvagii) are endemic to the warm, dew blanketed mid-canopies of Central and South America where they aggregate in the nooks-’n’-crannies of crowded foliage; they’re perfectly—and completely adequately—adapted for a life off the ground. No behavioral adaptation exemplifies this more than their ascendant breeding patterns: waxy monkey tree frogs never need to descent to the forest floor to amplex and raise their young. They can, just as well, brood their yet-metamorphosed young within the situational safety of low-slung branches. Here, in these well-shaded spaces, females will fold their now fertilized eggs around a sizable leaf, where, within a few short months, the hatched tadpoles will allow gravity to take the lead, gracefully descending from their nested tree (or leaf, for that matter) into the slow-moving stream below. Without missing a beat, they’ll amass into conspecific groups until fully maturing within a month-or-so’s timespan.

apeamonganurans2Photo © styko/ Flickr

It’s All In The Walk—And Grip

Now, on to the behavioral (and anatomical) anomalies that gave them their eponymous name to begin with: their ability to, literally, walk from along the treetops. No, not hopping—walking. Really, walking. What’s even more interesting about this behavioral quirk is its relevance to those hylids and “striving” toward efficiency; it’s been well documented that this means of biomechanics is not only more efficient when it comes to conserving energy, but it also appears to be the most precise means of locomotion adopted in their niche. Tree-going lizards, small manillas, and other anurans “ape” this practice, as well—pun intended.

Oh, aside from their impressive gate, waxy monkey tree frogs also have another anatomical overlap with their primate moniker: they have an “opposable thumb” of sorts on each hand to better grasp onto otherwise ungraspable branches. I kid you not. Mother Nature, she’s the bee’s knees.

Faunal comparisons—however stretched, poked-’and’-prodded they may be—have always baited my always fishing mind. They squirm and chum my nerve networks. And I love it when those firing neurons manage hook something worth storytelling; I yearn for those landings where ape and amphibian find their way into the same metaphoric boat.

By Matt Charnock

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