Send to

Choose Destination
Front Zool. 2013 Nov 9;10(1):67. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-10-67.

Tadpole transport logistics in a Neotropical poison frog: indications for strategic planning and adaptive plasticity in anuran parental care.

Author information

Department of Integrative Zoology, University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, A-1090 Vienna, Austria.



Individuals should aim to adjust their parental behaviours in order to maximize the success of their offspring but minimize associated costs. Plasticity in parental care is well documented from various bird, mammal and fish species, whereas amphibians were traditionally assumed as being highly instinct-bound. Therefore, little is known about 'higher' cognitive abilities of amphibians, such as strategic planning and behavioural flexibility. Dendrobatid frogs have evolved a remarkable diversity of parental behaviours. The most noticeable of these behaviours is tadpole transport, which is obligatory in almost all species. Nonetheless, there is limited knowledge about spatial and temporal patterns of tadpole transport and the possible existence of behavioural plasticity on the individual level. In this study, we investigated correlates of tadpole transport behaviour in a natural population of the dendrobatid frog Allobates femoralis during five years.


Tadpole transport was predominantly observed during morning hours. Although tadpoles were carried almost exclusively by males (N = 119), we also observed ten females performing this task. The parentage analysis revealed that in all cases females transported their own offspring. In contrast, four tadpole-carrying males were not the genetic fathers of the larvae they were transporting. The average clutch size of 20 eggs and our observation of an average of 8 tadpoles on the back of transporting individuals indicate that frogs do not carry entire clutches at once, and/or that they distribute their larvae across several water bodies. Contrary to the predictions from a hypothetical random search for deposition sites, the number of transported tadpoles was higher in males that travelled over longer distances.


Our results suggest a strong selective pressure on males to shift the time invested in tadpole transport to periods of low intra-specific competition. The number of tadpoles on the back of the males significantly correlated with displacement distance from the respective home territories, indicating a strategic non-random tadpole transport rather than random search for suitable tadpole deposition sites during tadpole transport. The observation of females who occasionally transported larvae supports the prevalence of adaptive plasticity in parental behaviours even in a species with a rather low level of parental care.

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for BioMed Central Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center