‘Kermit Sutra’ gets seventh amphibian mating position

Male Bombay night frogs rely on unusual, indirect sperm transfer

Bombay night frog

HEY, SUGAR   A male Bombay night frog, puffed up with a croak after mating, hovers near eggs, although he fertilized them by an indirect no-touch approach.

S.D. Biju

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A rare glimpse of the intimate lives of Bombay night frogs reveals unexpected biology, including a new style of mating embrace.

The Nyctibatrachus humayuni frogs live only in India’s Western Ghats, a region of still-unexplored biodiversity. Video now shows that the mating male of the species positions himself loosely on a female’s back, with his hands on the ground or leaves. From this position, called a dorsal straddle, the male then releases sperm directly onto the female’s back. Then, in an unusual move, he retreats before she lays the eggs. Sperm trickling down the female’s back and legs fertilize the eggs, an international research team reports June 14 in PeerJ. It’s the first time biologists have documented this loose straddling position.

NEW POSITION A male Bombay night frog loosely straddles a female but doesn’t grip her with his forelegs or release sperm directly on the eggs. S.D. Biju

More typically, male frogs, which don’t deliver sperm into a female reproductive tract, hold tight and contact freshly deposited eggs to fertilize them. Bombay night frogs do on occasion crawl over their eggs, but researchers found the eggs are already fertilized.

Biologists studying the challenges of external fertilization have previously cataloged six basic forms of male frog mating grasp, or amplexus. Four take some kind of back-hug approach or a head straddle. Other species position themselves rump-to-rump or, in what’s called glued amplexus, with the male dangling from a behemoth female.

Position is hardly the only unexpected feature of courting Bombay night frogs. Females give courtship croaks, one of only a few dozen female-vocal species among the 6,500-plus known kinds of frogs. 

NOW, THE MOVIE In these night scenes, Nyctibatrachus humayuni frogs reveal unexpected positions, sounds and perils, researchers show.Courtesy of S.D. Biju

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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