On a moonless summer night in Ecuador’s Andean foothills, a tiny bachelor glass frog sits on a leaf overhanging a stream. He has chosen the best real estate to try to impress a female, advertising his presence with a high-pitched call.
The problem is that location alone isn’t going to cut it. The yellowish green amphibian has been watching what mated male frogs do, so when he spots an abandoned clutch of eggs, he stays next to it for hours, pretending to guard it. Then a remarkable thing happens: He begins to attract female voyeurs, who apparently are tricked into thinking he’s an experienced father.
“It is the first time we report such behavior for frogs and toads,” says Anyelet Valencia-Aguilar, a behavioral ecologist at Switzerland’s University of Bern. She has recorded what appears to be male deception in one glass frog species in Brazil and believes that the same may be happening in at least two species in Ecuador.