Frogs invented the “ugly mate” routine, says science
Let’s talk frog sex.
Okay, imagine that you’re a really ugly male frog. You may have a winning froggy personality, you might be able to catch flies like a champ, but you don’t have what the lady frogs are looking for. What do you do?
“The experiment involved 120 female frogs, like a large-scale amphibian version of ITV’s Take Me Out.”
If you’re a túngara frog, the answer might be remarkably similar to what we humans do: get a wingman. That’s according to a fascinating study from the Ryan Lab at the University of Texas, which made the discovery by experimenting on 120 female frogs, like a large-scale amphibian version of ITV’s Take Me Out.“Giiirl, I wanna make you sweat”
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. You’re probably not particularly well versed in what makes a túngara frog sexually desirable, so let me bring you up to speed.
It’s all down to their amazing singing voice, which drives the lady frogs wild with desire (with the unfortunate side effect of alerting bats to a free lunch). “The calls, they sound like a video-game ping. It’s the funniest sound,” study co-author Amanda Lea told National Geographic. “They’re tiny little frogs, but they’re really loud.”
Here’s what that sounds like. Control yourself, ladies.
It may sound adorable to you and me, but if we were female túngara frogs, we’d be feeling seriously amorous right about now. But we’d have to make a choice, and although they may sound similar to us, there’s a world of difference to the discerning single lady-frog. A baritone low-pitch “ribbit” is what the females are listening out for, as it indicates a larger available male, but researchers also found a fast pace will impress ears. “If a male calls really, really fast, females just go crazy. They love it,” explained Lea.
This was backed up by experiments. One hundred and twenty lady-frogs were set between two speakers playing male túngara frog calls – whichever they seductively hopped towards was proclaimed the winner. Between the first speaker (a high-pitched fast call) and the second speaker (a slow-calling baritone), the frogs ultimately picked number one – fast delivery, but higher voice.“Don’t you want me baaaaaaby?”
But things get interesting when a third frog is brought into the mix: an undesirable wallflower frog with a sexy singing voice, but a really slow delivery – by far the slowest of the three. In this instance, the lady-frogs changed their rating system completely, and hopped towards the frog they rejected in the first round: the slow-delivery baritone.
“So if you’re unlucky in love, maybe it’s time to take a lesson from our túngara frog friends.”
It might just be down to confusion with too much choice, or it might be that a third frog makes the lady-frog completely re-evaluate what she’s looking for in a partner. Or it might just be that standing next to an ugly rival makes you look better by comparison. “I used to be a bartender, so this is all very familiar,” Lea told Slate.
So if you’re unlucky in love, maybe it’s time to take a lesson from our túngara frog friends, and start hanging out with people far less attractive than you. Or work on your booming baritone.