Turgid female toads give males the slip: a new mechanism of female mate choice in the Anura

Bas Bruning, Benjamin L. Phillips, Richard Shine

Abstract

In many anuran species, males vocalize to attract females but will grasp any female that comes within reach and retain their hold unless displaced by a rival male. Thus, female anurans may face strong selection to repel unwanted suitors, but no mechanism is known for doing so. We suggest that a defensive trait (the ability to inflate the body to ward off attack) has been co-opted for this role: by inflating their bodies, females are more difficult for males to grasp and hence, it is easier for another male to displace an already amplexed rival. Inflating a model female cane toad (Bufo marinus) strongly reduced a male's ability to maintain amplexus; and females who were experimentally prevented from inflating their bodies experienced no successful takeovers from rival males, in contrast to control females. Thus, the ability of a female cane toad to inflate her body may allow her to manipulate the outcome of male–male competition. This overlooked mechanism of anuran mate choice may reflect a common evolutionary pattern, whereby females co-opt defensive traits for use in sexual selection.

Footnotes

    • Received November 13, 2009.
    • Accepted December 8, 2009.
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