Today in cool science news — crowdsourcing science from the county fair: scientists learn about bullfrog leaps with a side of corndogs and elephant ears

At TEDx, we’re no strangers to offbeat methods of scientific research.
From a biologist who gains inspiration from improv to scientists watching woodpeckers for insight on athletic head injuries, we’ve learned that research can be pretty entertaining.

So we were hardly surprised to learn that biologist Henry Astley and his team at Brown University went looking for answers about the physiology of frog jumping at a county fair in California. They went for the The Calaveras County Jumping Frog Jubilee, where competitors get bullfrogs to jump as far as they can — for a $50 prize and priceless admiration. And far they go: "The longest bullfrog jump ever recorded in a lab was 4.26 feet, while frogs at the competition surpassed that figure regularly, at times jumping 6 or 7 feet," says Smithsonian Magazine.

Why were the lab results so different than those recorded at the fair? Apparently, the researchers weren’t scary enough. The lab coats learned that at the fair, master Jubilee competitors knew that to get a bullfrog to jump, you have to seen like a threat. They rubbed frogs’ legs to warm up their muscles, then got down on all fours, lunged, yelled, blew air, and pounced to imitate bullfrogs’ natural predators and switch on their flight instinct.

Their success suggests cool new things about bullfrogs, including that “like other frogs, they likely jump with help from a stretchy tendon that acts like a bow and arrow, storing energy until the frog springs from the ground,” says Science magazine.

Very cool. For more on science and frogs, learn how scientists levitated a frog with magnets in Marc Abrahams’s TEDxCERN talk, "Why all good, and some bad, research is improbable."And for more in crowdsourcing science, check out this fascinating TEDxAmsterdam talk on using the crowd to map the brain.

(Photos: blurradial; a gif from the TED-Ed lesson Disappearing frogs by Kerry M. Kriger. Animation by Simon Ampel)