Urban frogs are using human drains for mating in an ingenious way


A Mien-tien tree frog calling in the drain. (Brandon Po-Han Chou)

Taiwan’s temple tree frogs appear to be an impressively resourceful bunch — at least when it comes to calling out for sex.

A new study by National Taiwan University researchers found that male Mientien tree frogs apparently use urban drains to amplify their mating calls.

To maximize their chances of attracting a mate, the frogs prefer to call from inside human-made drains, where the natural acoustics help make their calls louder and longer, according to the paper published Thursday in the Journal of Zoology.

In Taiwan, the study’s authors wrote, the drains are “miniature urban canyons,” typically found along roads or on foot trails in urban and suburban areas.

The frogs mate by forming large choruses where males gather to call for potential partners. Females are drawn to the choruses and usually select mates with a bias toward the most intense calls.

Females then usually carry males away to a damp place that’s suitable for laying eggs. And therein lies a potential downside to the drain-mating strategy.

“For example, it may be physically demanding for females to carry males up vertical walls,” the authors wrote. “Thus, drains could be ecological traps if they in fact reduce reproductive success of individuals attending choruses in drains.”

But the cries for sex go on.

And as Discovery News notes, there’s a bit of trickery involved here:

 For example, animals monitor calls to help determine a potential mate — or a potential competitor’s fitness. Humans do this too, associating a person’s voice with their size and emotional and physical states.

If the vocalization isn’t a true representation of the individual, natural selection could be affected. Likewise, the drains are also clearly affecting wildlife habitat.

As with humans, the downsides of a little false advertising don’t seem to stop these frogs from trying either.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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