Amplexus

The ditch, recently filled with snow, is overflowing now with ice-cold water. But that didn’t deter the wood frogs I found there the other evening. I heard an odd sound, sort of half duck, half something else which drew my attention to ripples on the water surface.

To my surprise it was a frog, in full mating call. I crept closer. It didn’t seem to notice me. Closer still. Suddenly one frog became two frogs — caught in “the act”.

Or amplexus, as a scientist would describe it. Except not quite. When wood frogs mate the smaller male grabs the larger female from behind. These two appeared not to have read the memo.

Then, as the angle changed, I realized I wasn’t looking at two frogs, I was seeing three. A ménage à trois, with the female stuck in the middle of this amphibian sandwich.

Wood frog threesome

Apparently this female was lucky that the mating season was hardly underway. At the height of the hormones, the males go crazy. They gather in huge numbers in small ponds and seasonal pools, calling and thrashing around. Anything that enters the water is fair game. I watched one video of a salamander that happened to be in the wrong pool at the wrong time and it was mobbed by male wood frogs.

Ditto for female frogs. A dozen or more males may descend on her, each trying to fertilize the hundreds or thousands of eggs she’ll lay. Talk about testosterone! The item I read said such mash-ups sometimes result in injury (no kidding) or death. (An unhappy thought. But who to? It didn’t say.)

Wood frog menage a trois

I’m not sure how long the lust-fest had been going on before I arrived, but it showed so sign of ending.

Menage a trois

I inched closer to the oblivious three-some. Just as I was about to take another shot, they disappeared, sinking to the bottom of the ditch. Where did they go? It took me several seconds to find them, still in the throes of it, seemingly standing upright underwater.

Underwater wood frogs

I watched for several minutes but they showed no signs of resurfacing. So I left them to each other and wandered home, pondering this latest encounter with the neighbours whose world I’m fortunate enough to share.


Wood frog … Rana sylvatica

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5 thoughts on “Amplexus

  1. Thanks for providing a name for these frogs, I have not had a chance to look them up. I too heard that odd duck-like sound last week and spent some time watching them. Unfortunately, I only had my 90mm macro lens with me and they were to skittish to get close enough for a good shot.

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    1. I was only a few feet away but still had trouble with my 55-210 lens. Photographing something that’s moving in and out of water is tricky too, as I discovered.

      These are Alberta wood frogs — with a central white stripe down the back. As I searched online for more images I discovered that many wood frogs seem to lack this stripe. Some of the videos I watched also showed “wood” frogs that appeared rusty coloured. Common names are a problem as they don’t always refer to the same critter. My go-to reference in this case was “The Amphibians and Reptiles of Alberta” by Anthony P. Russell and Aaron M. Bauer. Hope to see some of your frogs soon. 🙂

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  2. The behavior you described reminds me of our mallards. Pity those poor females. When the males gang up on one, even a parking lot will do. I can’t tell you how many pairs of ducks I’ve interrupted and shooed into the water, where such goings-on should rightly be going on! At this point, I’d just be happy to see a frog. I’ve only seen one close enough to photograph in my whole life — although I’m constantly scaring them up when I’m around the water. I think I need to find a proper pond, and just sit down. I might have more luck.

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