The Túngara Frog

tungara introSexual Selection and Communication in Physalaemus pustulosus:   This work was initiated by myself and  Dr. A. Stanley Rand.  Stan was a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.  He passed away in November 2005 (click here for his obituary). Together with  Dr. Walt Wilczynski (Georgia State University) and Dr. David Cannatella (University of Texas) we have been investigating the sexual communication system of the túngara frog, Physalaemus pustulosus. Our approach is multi-disciplinary addressing questions in  three arenas of investigation: brain, behavior and evolution Click here for a several page synopsis of túngara frog research, for a more recent review article on tungara frogs,  a "QuickGuide" (Current Biology) to the frogs,  or for more on the Túngara project.

Holly Menino's book, Calls Beyond Our Hearing (2012, St. Martin's Press, NY) has a chapter dedicated to our tungara frog research. You can access that chapter from here to get a glimpse of what we do in Panama.

robofrogStudies with Dr. Ryan Taylor (Salisbury University) and colleagues utilize robotic frogs to gain insights into the imorptance of multimodal communication in sexual selection. Go to the multimedia page to see a video clip of the robofrogs in action.

Studies with Dr. Ham Farris (LSU Medical School) investigate various aspects of psychoacoustics in tungara frogs with emphasis on perceptual binding of the whine and the chuck, and on attempts to understand the general challenges of auditory scene analysis in a noisy environment.


Together with Dr. Nikki Kime (Edgewood College) and Dr. Preston Wilson (Mechnical Engineering, Univ. Texas) we are developing analytical models of the anuran sound production system. Dr. Heidi Smith is exploring the molecular genetics of larynx development and the mophology of larynx ontogeny in a collaboration with Dr. John Wallingford (Dept. of Molecular Sciences, Univ. Texas).

Alex tungara

Multimedia.  Videos & calls of this research for download are posted on Multimedia page.
Undergrad Researchers. If you are a UT undergrad looking for lab experience, click here.
Interns and Assistants.  Each summer (June to August inclusive) we hire assistants. Click here if you are interested.

(photo by Alex Baugh)



Factors Influencing Phenotypic and Genotypic Polymorphism in Male Body Size in the Swordtails (Xiphophorus: Poeciliidae: Pisces): In swordtails variation at the P allele controls most of the variation in body size in most species. A variety of studies are addressing behavioral correlates of the P allele, the maintenance of its variation in nature, and the historical patterns of preferences in females and P alleles in males in the clade of northern swordtails.

P geneWe recently identified the P gene as the melanocortin 4 receptor, and showed that: (i) there is copy number variation in mc4r, (ii) Y-linked alleles result in non-functional receptors, and (iii) there is a correlation between male size and copy number of Y-linked alleles (Lampert et al. 2010). Current studies with Professor Manfred Schartl (Wurzburg Univ, Germany), Dr. Hans Hoffman, and Dr. Alex Jordan (Max Planck Institute) are exploring the molecular genetics, neurobiology and behavioral evolution of this system.

The Amazon Molly


Behavioral Factors in the Maintenance of an Asexual-Sexual Species Complex of Mollies: The Amazon molly, Poecilia formosa, is an all-female species that reproduces clonally, but females must mate with males of the sexual species, P. latipinna, to acquire sperm necessary to trigger embryogenesis. The main question of our research asks, why would male sailfins mate with female Amazons if there is no reproductive benefit to the male? Click here for one of the answers. Much of this work is in collaboration with Dr. Ingo Schlupp of the University of Oklahoma.

Frog-eating Bats


Trachops cirrhosus, the fringe-lipped or frog-eating bat, is an eavesdropping predator that locates anuran prey by their calls. Not only do these bats rapidly learn to associate particular cues with the palatability of their prey, they can do so by observing the behavior of other individuals. May Dixon, Claire Hemingway, and STRI Staff Scientist Dr. Rachel A. Page (a former lab member) are investigating the cognitive ecology of T.cirrhosus, including learning and memory, as well as predation on multiple types of prey, social behavior, and echolocation. Dr. Wouter Halfwerk (VU University of Amsterdam) is investigating multimodal foraging strategies in Trachops.


Sofia Rodriguez is studying the effect of the chytrid fungus (Bd) on the behavior and genetics of tungara frogs. As part of tracking the spread of chytrid she led an expedition into Darien Gap in summer 2014. Click here for a video and more information.