Comparative and functional analysis of the digital mucus glands and secretions of tree frogs

Julian K.A. Langowski*, Saranshu Singla, Alex Nyarko, Henk Schipper, Frank T. van den Berg, Sukhmanjot Kaur, Henry C. Astley, Sander W.S. Gussekloo, Ali Dhinojwala, Johan L. van Leeuwen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Mucus and mucus glands are important features of the amphibian cutis. In tree frogs, the mucus glands and their secretions are crucial components of the adhesive digital pads of these animals. Despite a variety of hypothesised functions of these components in tree frog attachment, the functional morphology of the digital mucus glands and the chemistry of the digital mucus are barely known. Here, we use an interdisciplinary comparative approach to analyse these components, and discuss their roles in tree frog attachment.

Results: Using synchrotron micro-computer-tomography, we discovered in the arboreal frog Hyla cinerea that the ventral digital mucus glands differ in their morphology from regular anuran mucus glands and form a subdermal gland cluster. We show the presence of this gland cluster also in several other - not exclusively arboreal - anuran families. Using cryo-histochemistry as well as infrared and sum frequency generation spectroscopy on the mucus of two arboreal (H. cinerea and Osteopilus septentrionalis) and of two terrestrial, non-climbing frog species (Pyxicephalus adspersus and Ceratophrys cranwelli), we find neutral and acidic polysaccharides, and indications for proteinaceous and lipid-like mucus components. The mucus chemistry varies only little between dorsal and ventral digital mucus in H. cinerea, ventral digital and abdominal mucus in H. cinerea and O. septentrionalis, and between the ventral abdominal mucus of all four studied species.

Conclusions: The presence of a digital mucus gland cluster in various anuran families, as well as the absence of differences in the mucus chemistry between arboreal and non-arboreal frog species indicate an adaptation towards generic functional requirements as well as to attachment-related requirements. Overall, this study contributes to the understanding of the role of glands and their secretions in tree frog attachment and in bioadhesion in general, as well as the evolution of anurans.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2019


  • Cryo-histochemistry
  • Hyla cinerea
  • Infrared spectroscopy
  • Lubrication
  • Macrogland
  • Mucosubstance
  • Sum frequency generation spectroscopy
  • Synchrotron micro-computer-tomography
  • Wet adhesion


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