Nature's death knell: How a frog's love song is a bat's dinner bell

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 24, 2014 10:24pm IST

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sometimes love hurts - a lot. Just ask the tungara frog, a tiny native of Central and South America.

The loud, low mating call made by male tungara frogs in search of a love connection has a deadly unintended effect - attracting frog-eating bats.

While the male tungara frog's love song entices the female of the species, it also creates small ripples on the ponds and puddles where the frogs gather. That helps hungry bats using a form of sonar zero in on them to snag a juicy meal, scientists reported on Thursday.

The research, conducted in Panama and published in the journal Science, sheds new light on the evolutionary arms race that has unfolded for eons between frogs and bats - one of the most interesting fights in the animal kingdom.

"Imagine the frog that's in a pond," behavioral biologist Wouter Halfwerk said in a telephone interview. "It's like it's being spied upon by some agent that is spying on your communications."

"You try and make your love song and all of a sudden, yeah, you're screwed because someone is listening in on your call by using a completely different communication channel," said Halfwerk, one of the scientists in the study at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

The brownish frogs, measuring less than an inch long, begin their mating calls when the sun sets in the rainforest. As the males make their calls, their vocal sacs inflate and deflate like a pulsing balloon, creating ripples on the water's surface.

The researchers conducted experiments to show that the frog's natural predator, the fringe-lipped bat, was attracted by the mating calls but also apparently employed echolocation - the use of sound waves and echoes to determine something's location - on the ripples to find the unfortunate amphibian.

The propagating ripples served as a watery bull's-eye, said Halfwerk, who is affiliated with Leiden University in the Netherlands and the University of Texas, Austin.

"When a bat flies by, the frog's first line of defense is to stop calling," Rachel Page, a scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, said in a statement. "But the water ripples continue for another few seconds, effectively leaving a detection footprint for the approaching bat."

With one quick swoop by the bat, the male frog ended up without a mate -- and without his life.

Nearly all the bats in the study preferred to attack frogs on ponds where the ripples were produced, compared to ponds where scientists made sure there were no such ripples.

The bats seemed to lose this hunting advantage when the pond was cluttered with leaves, interfering with the ripples.

"I wouldn't like being in the same situation," Halfwerk said. "It frightens me a little bit."

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Amanda Kwan)

FILED UNDER:
Photo

After wave of QE, onus shifts to leaders to boost economy

DAVOS, Switzerland - Central banks have done their best to rescue the world economy by printing money and politicians must now act fast to enact structural reforms and pro-investment policies to boost growth, central bankers said on Saturday.

Music

Reuters Showcase

RK Laxman Dead

RK Laxman Dead

'Common Man' cartoonist RK Laxman dead at 93  Full Article 

Nuclear Group

Nuclear Group

China urges India to take steps to satisfy standards of NSG  Full Article 

India’s Male Tenor

India’s Male Tenor

India’s lone male tenor wants to ‘Indianise’ opera  Full Article 

Facebook Outage

Facebook Outage

Hacker group claims it is behind outages at Facebook, other sites  Full Article 

U.S. Blizzard

U.S. Blizzard

`Life-threatening' blizzard shuts down much of U.S. Northeast  Full Article 

Australian Open

Australian Open

Berdych ends Nadal tyranny on day of shocks  Full Article 

Fashionable Modi

Fashionable Modi

When Modi met Obama, his name was all over - his suit  Full Article 

Photo

Auschwitz Anniversary

Last survivors recall Auschwitz, ask if lessons learned  Full Article | Related Story 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage