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Frog Communication – Study Shows Frogs go far Beyond Croaking

Rana adenopleuraA recent study has challenged what we know, or thought we knew, about frog communication.  Researchers were astonished to discover that the calls of male Emei Music Frogs, (Babina daunchina) inform females of such details as the length and width of the singer’s burrow.

Construction Skills Needed

Named for the males’ banjo-like calls (they really do sound like banjos, please check video below), the Emei Music Frog is native to marshy habitats in central and southwestern China.  Females deposit their eggs in burrows constructed by the males, and the tadpoles develop there as well.  The ability to construct a safe burrow is, therefore, an important consideration when females go “mate shopping”.  You can see photos of the unique nests and egg masses of a related species, Japan’s Ryuku Brown Frog, here. Read More »

Strange but True – Fringe-Limbed Treefrog Tadpoles Consume Father’s Skin

Drawing of a Flying FrogSeveral years ago, we learned that female Caecilians (odd, legless amphibians) of some species grow extra layers of skin with which to feed their young.  This unbelievable feeding strategy was first documented on film in the BBC series Life in Cold Blood,  and is among the most fascinating (if chilling!) footage I’ve ever seen.  Tadpoles of the recently discovered Fringe-Limbed Treefrogs, Ecnomiohyla rabborum are now known to feed upon living skin as well.  In this case, it is the male parent that provides dinner with its own body – the only frog, and the only male amphibian, known to do so.

Discovery of a New Species

The Fringe-Limbed Treefrog is known only from a single mountainous rainforest in Coclé, central Panama.  It was first collected in 2005, and was described as a new species in 2008.  Its species name, rabborum, was given in honor of noted herpetologists Mary and George Rabb. Read More »

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). Read More »

First Completely Monogamous Amphibian Identified – the Mimic Poison Frog

R. ventrimaculataGenetic research has revealed that a fairly well-studied frog has been hiding an astonishing secret – pairs form lifelong pair bonds and remain faithful to one another.  Equally surprising is the fact that pool size alone (and not morality!) seems responsible for the fidelity shown by Mimic Poison Frog (Ranitomeya imitator) couples.  These findings, to be published in an upcoming issue of The American Naturalist, illustrate the second “first” for this species (please see below). Read More »

Behavioral Enrichment for Captive Poison (Dart) Frogs – Dendrobates, Phyllobates, Epipedobates spp. and related species

“Behavioral enrichment” – allowing captive animals a wider choice of behaviors in which to engage – is all the rage in zoos, especially for mammals. Reptiles and amphibians also benefit greatly when afforded the chance to act in a more “natural” manner. While they do not seem to engage in “play” (although turtle owners may question this!), most will engage in activities that are extensions of natural behaviors, particularly hunting.

Poison frogs respond quickly to novel situations and are among the best amphibian candidates for enrichment experiments. I enjoy watching them “figure out” new things. One technique I use is to place crickets into a container perforated with tiny holes – the frogs soon learn to associate the container with food, and will gather about it, watching the holes for escaping insects. On non-feeding days, you may still notice that the frogs will pause occasionally to peer at the feeder, apparently in anticipation of a meal.

Establishing a colony of springtails (tiny, wingless insects that may be collected below leaf litter) in the terrarium’s substrate will also provide your frogs with “naturalistic” hunting opportunities. Springtails will thrive on decaying moss and the frogs’ waste products, and usually do quite well and provide valuable nutrients to your pets (springtails can also be given a bit of tropical fish flakes on occasion). It is great fun to watch poison frogs scrutinize every inch of the terrarium and to stalk their prey, and they surely benefit from the increased activity levels.


Information about behavioral enrichment for reptiles and amphibians at the National Zoo is posted at:

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