Rain Forest Frogs Use Trick For Attracting Mates Without Becoming a Bat Meal

Male pug-nosed tree frogs confuse predators by overlapping their mating calls with those their neighbors. (Purdue University / Henry Legett)

Illusionist Frog Attracts Mates Without Unwanted Attention From Predators

by Alex Fox/Smithsonianmag.com

Male tungara frogs of Central and South America call out to potential mates with reckless abandon. During the rainy season, they wait for pockets of relative silence amid the cacophony of the rainforest and belt out a song that could attract females’ attention or get them eaten by an eavesdropping bat. Even worse, their most seductive calls are also more likely to turn them into someone’s dinner.

It might seem like a rough trade off, but trying to stand out from the acoustic lineup is typical among frogs, explains Ximena Bernal, an ecologist at Purdue University and researcher at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

In the rainforest’s dry season, another frog species has a more confusing way of flirting. When it’s time for male pug-nosed tree frogs to turn on the charm, they all call out at the same time.

“Synchronizing calls is like talking over other people which, as we all know, reduces our ability to understand what the person is saying,” says Bernal via email. Calling out at the same time seemed like a confusing strategy for pug-nosed frogs to get dates, but the tungara’s sometimes fatal bids for attention gave Bernal and her colleagues a clue.

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