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Frog Mate Avoidance: Why Do Female Frogs Fake Their Death?

By Orgesta Tolaj


17 April 2024

Frog Mate Avoidance

© gary tresize / Unsplash

Who knew women could relate to an animal this closely? Well, this specific animal is not only drop-dead gorgeous with its many color palettes and unique visuals, but they also drop-dead, gorgeous! New research is suggesting that female frogs actually drop dead to avoid specific male partners (phew, I wish that would work with us as well!). Female European common frogs, in the midst of a chaotic mating frenzy where multiple males vie for a single female, have been observed feigning death to evade unwanted attention from eager suitors. Intrigued? Keep on reading to find out everything you need to know about frog mate avoidance!

A Deep Dive Into Frog Mate Avoidance

In the realm of amphibian mating rituals, researchers have stumbled upon a fascinating revelation. Certain female frogs resort to extreme measures, such as simulating their demise, to avoid unwanted male attention. This intriguing discovery sheds fresh light on the behavior of the European common frog. Mostly suggesting that females are not merely passive participants in the frenetic male scramble for mates. This is a situation where multiple males can sometimes cling to a female, even at the risk of her life.

Previously, it was widely believed that females had no means to choose or defend themselves against this male coercion. Dr. Carolin Dittrich, the primary author of the study conducted at the Natural History Museum of Berlin, explained: “It was previously thought that females were unable to choose or defend themselves against this male coercion.” However, their research suggests that this may not be the case. “Females in these dense breeding aggregations are not passive as previously thought,” Dittrich emphasized.

What New Research Says About Frog Mate Avoidance

In their study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, Dr. Carolin Dittrich and her co-author, Dr. Mark-Oliver Rödel, designed an experiment. In the said experiment, they placed each male frog in an enclosure with two females, one large and one small, and recorded the mating behaviors on video.

The results, based on the experiences of 54 females subjected to male attention, were illuminating. It was found that 83% of females gripped by a male attempted to rotate their bodies. While 48% of clasped females emitted release calls, such as grunts and squeaks, all of whom also rotated their bodies. Furthermore, 33% of all females clasped by males exhibited tonic immobility. This was a state in which they stiffened with arms and legs outstretched, resembling playing dead. Interestingly, tonic immobility often occurred alongside rotation and calling. Additionally, smaller females were observed to employ all three tactics more frequently than their larger counterparts.

Frog Mate Avoidance
© Zdeněk Macháček / Unsplash

While the notion of frogs feigning death is unusual, it is not entirely unprecedented. Dr. Dittrich discovered a book written in 1758 by Rösel von Rosenhoff that described similar behavior, but this phenomenon had never been mentioned again until this research.

Why Do Female Frogs Use This Tactic?

The researchers propose that tonic immobility could be a stress response, which was more prevalent in smaller and younger females. This could be attributed to the heightened stress experienced by less-experienced individuals during reproduction.

Importantly, these three tactics provided at least some females with a means to escape the clutches of overzealous males. As the researchers noted, “Displaying mate avoidance behavior resulted in the escape of 25 females,” underscoring the importance of these behaviors in allowing females to exert some degree of control over their mating choices and, ultimately, their reproductive success.

What do you think of this tactic used by female frogs? Let us know in the comments below!

You might also want to read: Did You Know? Penguins Gift Pebbles for This Reason

Orgesta Tolaj

Your favorite introvert who is buzzing around the Hive like a busy bee!