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Planet Earth

Malaysian Rhythms

By Fenella SaundersJanuary 1, 1996 6:00 AM


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The din of animals pervades the night in Malaysian swamps. There’s so much noise that one kind of female tree frog has evolved a distinctive way to contact males amid the cacophony. Anything that will improve communication will be selected for evolutionarily, says Peter Narins, a biologist at UCLA. The female wanders into a chorus of calling males, picks a spot in the dense mat of reeds, and rhythmically toe-taps on the vegetation. Prospective mates sense the vibrations and come hopping. In this photo three eager males are attempting to mount a single female who has created a foam nest for her eggs. This peculiar tapping behavior has never been reported before--normally female frogs hear a male and jump over to it. The Malaysian tree frog has previously been identified as Polypedates leucomystax, a species found in striped and unstriped form in many parts of Asia--but only the unstriped Malaysian kind taps. Narins suspects, and genetic tests done this past year strongly suggest, that the tappers should be considered a new species.

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