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Condensation onto the Skin as a Means for Water Gain by Tree Frogs in Tropical Australia.

Christopher R. Tracy, Nathalie Laurence and Keith A. Christian


The American Naturalist , Vol. 178, No. 4 (October 2011), pp. 553-558
Published by: The University of Chicago Press for The American Society of Naturalists
Article DOI: 10.1086/661908
Article Stable URL: http://0-www.jstor.org.wizard.umd.umich.edu/stable/10.1086/661908

In October 2011, the article Condensation onto the Skin as a Means for Water Gain by
Tree Frogs in Tropical Australia was featured in The American Naturalist journal showing that
Australian green tree frogs utilize condensation to survive the dry season. Christopher R. Tracy
(et. al) of Charles Darwin University hypothesized that L. caerulea, green tree frogs, might use
condensation onto the body as a way to gain water during the dry season and that this might
explain their activity on cool nights during the dry season.(p. 533) The significance of their
experiment comes as an attempt to answer the questions left behind by similar postulates of
Lasiewski and Bartholomew: 1) Do ecological conditions appropriate for such condensation
exist in nature? 2) Can condensation on the surface of desert poikilotherms yield physiologically
useful water?
To begin answering these question, Christopher R. Tracy et al. tested their hypothesis by
putting cool frogs into tree hollows, one of which was natural and one of which was artificial, to
determine the net gain of water that they could achieve. A large Eucalyptus miniata tree,
approximately 1m in diameter, with a hollow at 4m above the ground was used as the natural

environment for this experiment. Furthermore, the temperature and humidity were measured
with iButtons (hardware) positioned at 4, 3, and 2 meters below the hallow (opening).On the
other hand, the artificial environment consisted of a temperature controlled incubator housed in a
PVC pipe (800 mm long and 150 mm diameter) which was sealed on the bottom and fitted with a

Condensation onto the Skin as a Means for Water Gain by Tree Frogs in Tropical Australia.
Christopher R. Tracy, Nathalie Laurence and Keith A. Christian
The American Naturalist , Vol. 178, No. 4 (October 2011), pp. 553-558
Published by: The University of Chicago Press for The American Society of Naturalists
Article DOI: 10.1086/661908
Article Stable URL: http://0-www.jstor.org.wizard.umd.umich.edu/stable/10.1086/661908
removable lid. Additionally, in order to allow air flow and the insertion of a relative humidity probe into
the hollow, there was a small hole drilled into the lid. The researchers then tested for mass gain from
condensation by first cooling the frogs with an ice water bath, measuring a stark 10.816.2C, or by
allowing them to cool to ambient, operative temperatures in air (18.019.2C). Next, skin temperature
and body mass were measure as they were placed in a plastic mesh cage which was to be placed into
either the natural or artificial tree hallows. The frogs and cage were left in the hallow for 15 min(natural)
and 20 min(artificial) at which time the air temperature and relative humidity were measure. Finally, as
the cages were removed from the hollow the skin temperature of the frogs were taken, the mass of the
empty cage and that of the cage containing the frog were promptly measured. While the effects of
evaporation and absorption of water are significant, any mass gain was assumed to be caused by
condensation.(p. 554)
Accounting for the evaporative water loss, Christopher R. Tracy (et. al) used the biophysical
model of temperature and water loss of C.R. Tracy et al (2010). According to their methods, this was done
by using a timed series of temperature changes to measure the amount of time it would take for an
average-sized L. caerulea (42 g) with a cutaneous resistance to water loss of 12 s cm1 to come to
equilibrium with the air temperature on a cool night. Additionally, water absorption was tested as red
colored water was blotted on the dorsal side of the frogs to see if condensed water was actually being
absorbed through the skin. The frogs were then measure every 5 minutes for 30 minutes and ultimately
reweighed assuming that any body mass change would be caused by absorbed [condensed] water.(p.
555)
According to the C.R. Tracy et al., under fluctuation humidity and temperature, cool frogs
consistently gained mass when placed into both natural and artificial hollows (gaining up to 0.4g and

Condensation onto the Skin as a Means for Water Gain by Tree Frogs in Tropical Australia.
Christopher R. Tracy, Nathalie Laurence and Keith A. Christian
The American Naturalist , Vol. 178, No. 4 (October 2011), pp. 553-558
Published by: The University of Chicago Press for The American Society of Naturalists
Article DOI: 10.1086/661908
Article Stable URL: http://0-www.jstor.org.wizard.umd.umich.edu/stable/10.1086/661908
0.93% of frog body mass). As a result, water droplets on the dorsal skin of the frogs, especially on the
head, were observed. The data suggest that the amount of water mass gained was proportionally related to
the temperature difference between hollow and the frog. In other words, the larger the temperature
difference (between the frog and hollow) the more mass gained. In addition, water evaporation tests
proved to be slight which confirms the possibility of dew forming on the skin of the frogs. Likewise,
water absorption test were positive and showed a gain of 29 micrograms or 60% of the test droplets. Thus,
condensation onto the bodies of frogs is believed to be an effective means of maintaining water balance
that is critical to surviving harsh dry season.

In sum, the activity of Litoria caerule during the dry season when temperatures approach the
critical minimum temperature can be explained by their behavior and ability to absorb condensed water.
experiments confirmed the results that Lasiewski and Bartholomew (1969)
obtained from an artificial burrow by showing that cool frogs entering the
atmosphere of a warm, humid tree hollow can consistently gain mass from water
condensing on them, under both experimental and natural conditions. Furthermore,
it