The evolution of jumping in frogs: morphological evidence for the basal anuran locomotor condition and the radiation of locomotor systems in crown group anurans

J Morphol. 2011 Feb;272(2):149-68. doi: 10.1002/jmor.10902. Epub 2010 Nov 8.


Our understanding of the evolution of frog locomotion follows from the work of Emerson in which anurans are proposed to possess one of three different iliosacral configurations: 1) a lateral-bending system found in walking and hopping frogs; 2) a fore-aft sliding mechanism found in several locomotor modes; and 3) a sagittal-hinge-type pelvis posited to be related to long-distance jumping performance. The most basal living (Ascaphus) and fossil (Prosalirus) frogs are described as sagittal-hinge pelvic types, and it has been proposed that long-distance jumping with a sagittal-hinge pelvis arose early in frog evolution. We revisited osteological traits of the pelvic region to conduct a phylogenetic analysis of the relationships between pelvic systems and locomotor modes in frogs. Using two of Emerson's diagnostic traits from the sacrum and ilium and two new traits from the urostyle, we resampled the taxa originally studied by Emerson and key paleotaxa and conducted an analysis of ancestral-character state evolution in relation to locomotor mode. We present a new pattern for the evolution of pelvic systems and locomotor modes in frogs. Character analysis shows that the lateral-bender, walker/hopper condition is both basal and generally conserved across the Anura. Long-distance jumping frogs do not appear until well within the Neobatrachia. The sagittal-hinge morphology is correlated with long-distance jumping in terrestrial frogs; however, it evolved convergently multiple times in crown group anurans with the same four pelvic traits described herein. Arboreal jumping has appeared in multiple crown lineages as well, but with divergent patterns of evolution involving each of the three pelvic types. The fore-aft slider morph appears independently in three different locomotor modes and, thus, is a more complex system than previously thought. Finally, it appears that the advent of a bicondylar sacro-urostylic articulation was originally related to providing axial rigidity to lateral-bending behaviors rather than sagittal bending.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anura / anatomy & histology*
  • Anura / physiology
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Fossils
  • Ilium / diagnostic imaging
  • Locomotion*
  • Pelvic Bones / diagnostic imaging
  • Pelvis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pipidae / anatomy & histology
  • Ranidae / anatomy & histology
  • Sacrum / diagnostic imaging
  • X-Ray Microtomography