One of these is a deadly viper. The other is a harmless toad. Can you tell the difference? | Science


Eli Greenbaum

The Congolese huge toad, which grows to the size of a little hand, would be a hearty meal for any predator. However it leaves being consumed by birds, lizards, and snakes with a technique never ever seen anywhere else in the world: It looks and acts much like the Gaboon viper, one of the most poisonous snakes in Central Africa.

Many animals mimic unsafe ones to prevent being consumed. Viceroy butterflies are colored like the harmful queen, for instance, and lots of harmless snakes imitate poisonous ones. However this is the very first time a toad has actually been discovered to imitate a snake.

To ensure scientists weren’t seeing things, a group of herpetologists invested 10 years comparing dead toads from museums with live toads from 11 websites throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the deadly viper. Initially, the scientists discovered that the toad’s body has a triangular shape comparable to that of the viper’s head (above, left and right, respectively). Then, they observed a striking—and constant—color scheme: Just like the viper, the toad has 2 dark brown areas and a dark brown stripe that extend down its back. Lastly, when the toad senses risk, it blurts a long, low hissing sound, comparable to the caution hiss a Gaboon viper may make prior to it strikes.

Taken together, these resemblances recommend the toad is a near-perfect mimic for the viper, the scientists compose today in the Journal of Natural History. Further, provided their close evolutionary history (both progressed in between 4 million and 5 million years ago) and the reality that the toad is discovered just in places where the viper is present, it’s most likely that the toads and vipers coevolved together, the authors compose.

The toad’s color and shape are not a specific match. However a lot of predators are most likely to prevent anything that looks comparable to the snake—due to the fact that a single error might be deadly. 

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