Dueling frogs: do male green tree frogs (Hyla cinerea) eavesdrop on and assess nearby calling competitors?

Mark J. Garcia*, Andrew Cronin, Tyler Bowling, Hakeem Bushera, Kimberly L. Hunter, Ryan C. Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Abstract: Individuals produce advertisement signals with intended purposes and targets. However, these signals can be received by “eavesdroppers,” who may extract information from them and alter their behavior according to the extracted information. In anuran systems, males congregate at breeding sites to produce advertisement calls to attract receptive females and fend off rival males. Both sexes directly assess these calls in dyadic encounters and make decisions based on the call’s characteristics, e.g., frequency. What is unknown is whether bystander males eavesdrop on these same calls to inform their future competitive decisions. Here, we examined whether male green tree frogs (Hyla cinerea) eavesdrop on competing males, assess their competitor’s call frequency, and respond accordingly. We exposed males to playbacks of two competing males that varied in call frequency—high, average, low—and quantified latency to call, time spent calling, and number of calling bouts. We found that males had reduced latency to call and called more when eavesdropping low-frequency competition, but not average or high-frequency competition. Focal male size also influenced how they responded, with larger males being more responsive than smaller males. Our results indicate that male green tree frogs are capable of eavesdropping on nearby male calls and produce behavioral responses accordingly. Further, it appears males are able to alternate between assessment strategies dependent upon the frequency of the eavesdropped competition. These findings indicate that males not only directly assess an opponent’s call in dyadic encounters, but also indirectly through eavesdropping. Significance statement: Animals produce signals with intended purposes and targets, but which can be received by nearby eavesdroppers. Eavesdropped signals can elicit complex phenotypic changes in the eavesdropper, and lead to significant fitness consequences for the signal producer and eavesdropper. Thus, examining whether and to what extent individuals eavesdrop is an important step in understanding the evolution of signal production and response. Here, we examined whether male green tree frogs, H. cinerea, eavesdrop on nearby competing males and base their own calling behaviors on eavesdropped male’s calling characteristics. Calling behavior was mediated by focal male body size and eavesdropped male’s call frequency. Larger males reduced response latency and called more to nearby low-frequency males, while smaller males reduced response latency to nearby calls of average frequency. These results indicate that males will extract information from their competitive environment through eavesdropping and produce behavioral responses according to the eavesdropped information.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Competition
  • Eavesdropping
  • Green tree frogs
  • Hyla cinerea
  • Male call assessment

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