This is most likely a garden ornament, but there is a real frog that survives freezing. It stops breathing and its heart stops until it thaws.
Skip down if you’d like to read about the Rana sylvatica frog, the first part of this article is just my fact check of the viral image.
One culprit for spreading what became a viral image of a frog covered by ice appears to be WGN Chicago’s news show “9 at 9” for the date 1/28/2014. The person(s) creating that news story mixed real wood frog images with at least one fake. I tracked one of the images they used for the story, a frog hanging off of a bird feeder, back to the source. It was a garden ornament. Here is a screenshot of it in the story:
Here’s the original, complete with clearly painted eyes and mouth.
In case you doubt this frog is fake, the image is for sale. It is titled “A frog yard decor hanging from a frozen birdbath during a bitter cold winter in Portland, Oregon.” by Marilyn Peterson.
Although it was shared “over 400,000 times” a few were skeptical and said it wasn’t a real frog, that, “This widely-circulated image appears to be simply a garden ornament that has been covered with frost.” No one presented the original ornament for comparison, however.
While the fingers look impossibly huge and wrong for a real frog, the detail on the eyes is detailed and interesting.
The proof for me is that real frog eyes don’t face that direction. It could always be a very rare mutant frog, but frog eyes are side mounted, not forward mounted, even when they are looking straight ahead.
Here’s the frog I have digitally de-iced compared to a real frog:
See what I mean? The eyeball sockets are pointed in the wrong direction.
When did the frozen wood frog image first appear?
The oldest I could find was at shockmansion.com dated August 23, 2013 with a photo timestamp of August 22, 2013, 4:05:32 PM. Warning: that site has some gore and other NSFW content. There are earlier time stamps, but I don’t trust them with regard to Pintrest.
When you check the date stamps on these images, they are much more recent. The one supposedly from 1/6/2002 isn’t. Who has the original photo?
Is there really a freezable frog?
The story itself is legit and very interesting. PBS had a great video showing a wood frog frozen and then later thawing that ran 4/1/2005, but the viral image was not part of that video.
The wood frog has garnered attention by biologists over the last century because of its freeze tolerance, relatively great degree of terrestrialism (for a ranid), interesting habitat associations (peat bogs, vernal pools, uplands), and relatively long-range movements.
Rana sylvatica… The tiny amphibians can survive for weeks with an incredible two-thirds of their body water completely frozen — to the point where they are essentially solid frogsicles.
Even more incredible is the fact that the wood frogs stop breathing and their hearts stop beating entirely for days to weeks at a time.
The viral photograph displayed above does not show an Alaskan tree frog (since no such animal exists), nor does it show a wood frog. This widely-circulated image appears to be simply a garden ornament that has been covered with frost.
A natural form of antifreeze prevents the insides of the frog’s cells from freezing and causing tissue damage. In the spring the frog thaws out and resumes normal activity.
Here is an image of a real and amazing wood frog, able to survive freezing:
Cute, eh? Is there further proof? Here’s a scientific paper on the topic from June 15 2014. Also, Jon Costanzo, Ph.D., professor of zoology and researcher at Miami University in Ohio confirmed details during a PBS interview:
The heart rate of a wood frog, or any ectothermic (“cold-blooded”) animal, strongly depends on its body temperature. When the frog’s temperature falls to near the freezing mark, the heart pulses slowly (only a few beats per minute), but quite regularly, and blood is circulated throughout the body. In fact, the heart continues to beat for many hours after the frog’s tissues have begun to freeze. This is important because the cryoprotectant, glucose, is made in the liver and must be circulated to cells throughout the body.
However, later in the freezing process the heart stops completely. Ice encases the organ and forms inside the muscle and the chambers. There’s no need for a working pump now because the blood, too, is frozen. This state of arrested heart function can be tolerated for many days and perhaps months, but upon thawing the contractions spontaneously resume. Imagine our amazement when we witnessed those first few blips on a thawing frog’s EKG!
Jill Vernes: How do the cryoprotectants (glucose, ethylene glycol, etc.) keep water from leaving the cells?
Costanzo: Great question, complex answer! First, realize that when a frog freezes, ice forms only in the spaces outside the cells, never inside them. Second, recall that ice is relatively pure and is formed of water but no solutes. Now, when the solution outside the cells gradually freezes, the salts and other solutes there become quite concentrated. This condition creates an osmotic imbalance across the water-permeable cell membrane and, as you might imagine, the pressure differential is relieved when water inside the cell flows outside.
However, if too much water leaves, the cell shrinks excessively and the plasma membrane may fail. In fact, this dynamic—not mechanical damage from jagged ice crystals—is thought to be a primary mechanism of freezing injury to tissues. Cryoprotectants (glucose and glycerol are used by frogs) help cells retain water by 1) colligatively reducing the quantity of ice that forms; and 2) increasing the intracellular solute concentration and thereby limiting the osmotic pressure differential.
Charles Byrd: Do the brain or other organs of the wood frog use oxygen when the frog is frozen?
Costanzo: During the early stages of freezing the blood continues to deliver oxygen to the tissues. However, once freezing progresses and the circulation fails, the cells must survive without oxygen. They do this by using anaerobic glycolysis, an energy-producing metabolic pathway that does not require oxygen. Lactate, the primary end product of anaerobic glycolysis, accumulates in the blood of frozen frogs. Although little ATP is produced this way, the energy demand in frozen frogs is greatly depressed. …
Perhaps some tricks from freezing frogs will allow us to sleep frozen for hundreds or thousands of years while traveling to distant worlds.