Home Front Page Multitasking male frogs attract more mates, say researchers

Multitasking male frogs attract more mates, say researchers

A new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota (UM) suggests that female tree frogs go for males with good multitasking skills. The findings were published in the August issue of the journal Animal Behavior.

The study, which examined the behavior of gray tree frogs, discovered that females are attracted to males whose mating calls reflect the ability to juggle more than one task at a time. The male of the species, Hyla chrysoscelis, produces a trilled call made up of a string of pulses. The mating calls can consist of from 20 to 40 pulses per call and occur from between five to 15 calls per minute. Hyla chrysoscelis, or Cope’s gray tree frog, lives in the southeastern United States where it breeds and calls from May to August.

Listening to recordings of 1,000 calls, the researchers found that male frogs were faced with a trade off between call duration and call rate. In other words, males producing longer calls did so at relatively slower rates. However, male frogs that were able to produce calls that were both longer and more frequent apparently made a greater impression on their female audience, resulting in more mates.

“It’s kind of like singing and dancing at the same time,” said lead author Jessica Ward in a UM news release. Ward is a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Mark Bee, a professor at the College of Biological Sciences’ Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior.

The multitasking hypothesis, which posits that females prefer males who can perform two or more tasks at the same time, has become a new area of study for investigators of animal behavior. Ward and her colleagues carried out their research in connection with the Bee laboratory’s primary goal of learning how female frogs are able to tell the difference between individual mating calls coming from a large chorus of males. Understanding this ability, researchers say, could help scientists develop better hearing aids for aging men and women who tend to lose their capacity to distinguish individual voices in a crowd.

According to the scientists, the multitasking hypothesis also could hold true for human mating behavior.

“It’s easy to imagine that we humans might also prefer multitasking partners, such as someone who can successfully earn a good income, cook dinner, and get the kids to soccer practice on time,” Ward speculated.

Throw in a good sense of humor and a healthy sex drive–well, really, what more would any female want?