What the frog? Beetle gets swallowed … and wanders out the other end

Apart from the death and anxiety, one of the sad things about COVID-19 was all the funny little science stories we missed. And failed to publish in good time.

As the virus raged, and virologists and epidemiologists sought to understand the pandemic, they also became people of fascination in the media. Some of them quickly became household names.

Thus we were distracted from those many charming stories that suggest scientists can be whimsical.

Better late than never

This week, three years after the fact, published news and video of ‘Japanese water scavenger beetle’, Regimbartia attenuata, being swallowed by a pond frog, Pelophylax nigromaculatus.

This occurred in a Kobe University lab.

In the wild, this species of frog and beetle share a home (or rather, compete for one) in the same kind of rice field.

For just shy of two hours, the frog just sat there. And one presumed the beetle was being digested.

Instead, and this was a world-first observation, once swallowed, the beetle had kept on walking. It travelled from mouth to throat to stomach and beyond. It’s thought that the beetle tickled its way back out to where the sun was shining.

The rigour of science

Shinji Sugiura, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Agricultural Science at Kobe University, repeated the experiment about a dozen times. As one must do in science to prove a point.

More than 90 per cent of the beetles emerged from the frog’s vent (or anus, sort of).

But, as The New York Times reported, that’s not where the science ends.

Dr Sugiura concluded that the beetle wasn’t a passive escapee. Instead, it promoted its own expulsion by tickling the frog’s sphincter. This made the frog want to poop.

Which it did. And covered in the poop was the beetle.

More polite language was used in a paper published in Current Biology.

“This study is the first to report the successful escape of prey insects from the vent of a predator,” the author wrote.

It’s also the first “to suggest that the prey promotes predator excretion to escape from inside the predator’s body”.

Over three years later, word of this discovery is gradually getting out.

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