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New Form of Communication Revealed – Plant-Vibrating Red-Eyed Treefrogs

Red-eyed Tree FrogHerpetologists at Panama’s Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute have uncovered a here-to-fore unknown form of communication among frogs. Using robotic frogs, infra-red lights and accelerometers, they have established that male Red-Eyed Treefrogs (Agalychnis callidryas) compete by shaking their bodies, which in turn vibrates the plant stems upon which they are perched.

Vibration Contests

Writing in the May 20, 2010 edition of Current Biology, researchers speculate that the vibrations sent through plant stems enable other male frogs can access the plant shaker’s intent, size and status. It appears that the frogs’ vocal calls may also vibrate plants, but further research is needed.

Additional studies are also being planned to determine if other herps, birds or mammals utilize vibration-based communication (invertebrates are known to do so).

A Hand-Waving Frog

Another frog has forsaken vocal calls – as an adaptation to life near rushing streams that would drown out frog sounds, Panama’s brilliant Golden Frog uses a system of hand signals, known as semaphoring, to communicate. I have observed this in captive frogs and found it most intriguing (please see article below).

The “Bat Effect”?

It’s interesting to speculate just why the Red Eyed Treefrog evolved vibration-based communication (they7 use vocal calls as well).

Many South American bats, such as the False Vampire, feed upon frogs and locate them by homing in on their calls. Certain frog species are known to modify their calls, utilizing a frequency that is difficult for bats to detect…perhaps the Red-Eyed Treefrog has taken this strategy a step further?
Red-eyed Tree Frog

Watch and Learn

This research highlights how much there is to be learned about even commonly-kept, well-studied amphibians. Be sure to observe your animals carefully and take notes. The Red Eyed Treefrogs in this study did not vibrate under regular light…you may wish to consider using night viewing bulbs http://www.thatpetplace.com/pet/cat/infoL3/23921/category.web in your quest to uncover further surprises.

Further Reading

Vibrations are also important to this species’ eggs – they hatch spontaneously when attacked by snakes. Read more here.

For more info on frog hand signals, please see The Unique Panamanian Golden Frog.


Red eyed Tree Frog (second image) image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Graham P. Oxtoby


  1. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    This is very interesting regarding the vibrating red eyed tree frogs. I witness this behavior with the male frogs around my pool. I have documented this behavior in my “frog journal” and it only seems to happen when they first wake up. I have only seen both the male fighting and male vibrating just after they have awoke and start moving around. Once they have established a territory, I don’t see either again, even when males cross paths throughout the night. Your is the first article I have seen regarding the vibrating behavior. Thanks.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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