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Wood Frog by Bryan Pfeiffer

Breeding Wood Frogs

Pandemonium in a Pond

April 20, 2015  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  11 comments  | 

Imagine you’re a female Wood Frog. You’ve spent the winter virtually frozen in the woods under the leaf litter. Now you get to come back to life — to get yourself to a pond to meet some males, to fulfill your genetic destiny and produce a new generation of Wood Frogs.

A more placid pair of mating Wood Frogs / © Bryan Pfeiffer

A more placid pair of mating Wood Frogs / © Bryan Pfeiffer

When you arrive to pond, your abdomen swollen with eggs, you might encounter a single male. He’ll maneuver behind you and, to put it kindly, grab you for a long hug, during which you’ll lay your eggs and he’ll fertilize them externally as they emerge.

But sometimes this courtship amounts to pandemonium. Actually, there is no courtship, at least not any courtship a human woman might recognize or welcome. There is no judgment of suitable males on your part. No dinner and movie. You are instead seized upon by many males, each jockeying for position to fertilize your eggs, in the water, the moment you lay them.

This is Wood Frog “amplexus” — a word that derives from the Latin for “embrace.” It’s standard breeding behavior in Wood Frogs. Out there in the ponds, males seize upon almost anything moving, including other males or your fingers dipped into the water. Yep, occasionally females die during these encounters. Sometimes males die during these cluster-you-know-whats.

But if you’ve ever needed evidence that females share disproportionately the burdens of reproduction, I’ve got it on video from a pond in Montpelier on April 19, 2015.  The female is at the center of this mess.

The female is the larger, more fawn-colored individual at the bottom of this cluster-f**k.

  1. John Porcino says:

    This afternoon we were watching wood frogs mating is Williamstown MA… we notice some white spots in the middle of the swampy pond… Later we came back and were able to see what the white “spots” appeared to be. We clearly saw a male on the back of a female who appeared to be eating another frog. At an rate it was half way down her gullet and the frog in her mouth seemed to be still struggling some. Any wild idea if that in fact was so? We noticed 3 white spots in this little pond with what appeared to be 100’s of mating “couples”

    • Hmmm. No clue on this, John. Odd, indeed. Photos would help if you’ve got them!

      • John P Porcino says:

        Thanks for getting back…tried to look this up…both of us saw it clearly…no information anywhere about our sighting…

        No photos this time…though it was quite a showing of life lomging for itself. It shall have to be a mystery as nature is often….

        Happy Trails

  2. Gail says:

    There is a swamp very near where I observed the mating activity. The next day I was saddened to see 5 female carcasses under the water. I assumed this is from the rough treatment I observed them getting the day before from the many males competing to fertilize the females’ eggs. Anyway, this left me with a sad heart for the fate of the female who must endure for the propogation of the species. Do you have any words of consolation? I know this is a real right of Spring and I’d like to see its beauty as others seem to be doing.

    • Hi Gail, Well, nature is nothing if not brutal. But, perhaps as some solace, wood frogs often float under water like that and appear deceased, when they are in fact very much alive.

  3. michelle says:

    I have a swamp like back yard and every night sounds just like this

  4. charlie Hewson says:

    Well said…Your writing is wonderful! It adds color to one of my favorite signs of spring.

    • Bryan says:

      Aw, shucks. Thanks so much, Charlie. It’s great to hear from you. Rain here in Vermont; we’re heading out for the Spotted Salamander movement tonight!

  5. lindawurm says:

    It’s her sexy voice that drives the boys wild!

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