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The ripple effect

November 27, 2012

The ripple effect

Female frogs and also frog predators perceive Tungara frog calls in many different ways: the audible call, the visible inflation of the male's vocal sacs and perhaps the tactile ripples produced by those calls in the water

A large box of gourmet chocolates, a bouquet of roses, unexpected romantic chats: what does it take to attract a mate?

Male Tungara frogs attract females by puffing up their vocal sacs and belting out a loud “tun” followed by several call ornaments, “ga-ra, ga-ra.” By adding ornaments they compete with neighboring males to attract females to the dark puddles that dot jungle gaps.

Female frogs and also frog predators perceive Tungara frog calls in many different ways: the audible call, the visible inflation of the male's vocal sacs and perhaps the tactile ripples produced by those calls in the water.

Post-doctoral fellow Wouter Halfwerk came from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands to STRI's frog lab in Gamboa, Panama to tease apart the importance of these multimodal signals in the evolution of the Tungara frog mating system.

In his quest to understand the subtleties of animal communication, Wouter admits with a shrug and a laugh, “I used to work on Great Tits and now I work on ripples.”

Male tungara frogs make tough choices about where, when and how to call. Their calls also attract fringe-lipped bats that will gobble them up. Wouter's research is funded by a grant to Mike Ryan, Ryan Taylor and Rachel Page to use robotic frogs developed by Barrett Klein and Joey Stein to discover how both the frogs and their predators use different sensory channels to communicate.

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