Sex and Mayhem in a Pond
Binge Breeding Among Wood Frogs
If you ever needed proof that females often bear the worst when it comes to reproduction, here it is: Wood Frog amplexus. This is not murder and mayhem. It is mayhem and mating.
Now that winter has abdicated here in the Northeast, we now enter the brief season of amphibian mating. During our 4.5-mile walk here in Montpelier on Earth Day, Ruth and I encountered 27 bird species, various plants in bloom, only a bit of snow and ice left on the paths … and multitude of Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers in ponds and vernal pools.
Wood Frogs practice explosive breeding (to put it kindly). When the earth thaws, usually in March or April here in New England, the frogs (and other amphibians) emerge from their overwintering sites in rotting logs, under rocks or nestled in the leaf litter — and then make their way to water for binge breeding.
Males most often outnumber females at these sites, which means, well, just ask a woman in an over-crowded singles bar. Male Wood Frogs fertilize eggs as they are released by the female. So this scene above is all about “positioning.” The male who can best cling to a female’s back (a maneuver called “dorsal amplexus”) is more likely to fertilize her eggs. In the video, you can just make out the female (warmer brown in color) in the scrum.
So desperate are the males that they’ll grab just about anything that moves or might resemble a female in the water, including Spotted Salamanders or even your fingers.
Note to self: Try not to be reincarnated as a female Wood Frog.
Once she lays her eggs, the males relent and swim away. She’s often left dazed or even appearing comatose. Who can blame her. After we watched some amplexus yesterday, Ruth said, “Note to self: Try not to be reincarnated as a female Wood Frog.” (And who can blame her?)
[Not incidentally, female ducks have evolved a strategy to deal with unwanted males. It’s twisted.]
Meanwhile, other highlights from our walk included Beaked Hazelnut in bloom, Mourning Cloak, and Six-spotted Tiger Beetle. I posted a few of the sightings on iNaturalist. Here are some of my favorite shots from the archives.
The Bird List – Montpelier, VT (22 April 2019)
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon
Fox Sparrow (5, a few of them singing, above the Montpelier Stump Dump)