Theatrical frogs and crafty snakes: predation of visually-signalling frogs by tail-luring and ambushing pitvipers

Ivan Sazima

aqua, International Journal of Ichthyology, pp. 117-124, Volume 11, Issue 3 – September 2006


A species of torrent frog (Hylodes asper) is a common prey to two species of pit viper (Bothrops jararacussu and B. jararaca) in coastal streams of the Atlantic forest in south-east Brazil. The diurnally active frogs are cryptically coloured against the rocky background and the males advertise their presence with visual signals. When a displaying male extends and moves a hind limb, the whitish digits and toe fringes stand out against the background. Moreover, the frogs have acute vision and are able to spot a moving prey at up to 2.8 m. The pit vipers are habitually nocturnal; nonetheless juveniles of the two species forage for frogs by day on the stream banks. The frogs are ambushed or lured by wiggling movements of the tail used by the pit vipers to attract ectothermic prey. Juvenile pit vipers often have whitish or yellowish tail tips that stand out against their camouflage colours while coiled up in ambush. I suggest that the pit vipers’ tactic of luring with the tail benefits from the visual signalling used by the frogs, since the frogs tend to react to the movement of light-coloured extremities. Similar prey-predator relationships may occur on tropical streams that harbour visual-signalling diurnal frogs and vipers that forage for frogs and lure them with coloured tail tips.

Full Text | PDF (384 KB)


ANANJEVA, N. B. & ORLOV, N. L. 1982. Feeding behaviour of snakes. Vertebrata Hungarica 21: 25-31.

ALTMANN, J. 1974. Observational study of behavior: sampling methods. Behaviour B: 227-265.

COCK BUNING, T. DE 1983. Thermal sensitivity as a specialization for prey capture and feeding in snakes. American Zoologist, 23: 363-375.

GRAVES, B. M. & DUVALL, D. 1985. Avomic rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis) fail to attack rodent prey. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 67: 161-166.

DAVISON, G. 1984. Foot flagging displays in Bornean frogs. Sarawak Museum Journal 33: 177-178.

DUELLMAN, W. E. & TRUEB, L. 1986. Biology of amphibians. McGraw-Hill, New York, 670 pp.

HADDAD, C. F. B. & GIARETTA, A. A. 1999. Visual and acoustic communication in the Brazilian torrent frog, Hylodes asper (Anura: Leptodactylidae). Herpetologica 55: 324-333.

HARDING, K. A. 1982. Courtship display in a Bornean frog. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 95: 621-624.

HARTMANN, P. A., HARTMANN, M. T. & GIASSON, L. O. M. 2003. Uso do hábitat e alimentação em juvenis de Bothrops jararaca (Serpentes, Viperidae) na Mata Atlântica do sudeste do Brasil. Phyllomedusa 2: 35-41.

HÖDL, W. & AMÉZQUITA, A. 2001. Visual signalling in anuran amphibians. In: Anuran communication (Ed. M. J. Ryan): 121-141. Smithsonian University Press, Washington.

LEHNER, P. N. 1996. Handbook of ethological methods. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 672 pp.

MARTINS, M., MARQUES, O. A. V. & SAZIMA, I. 2002. Ecological and phylogenetic correlates of feeding habits in Neotropical pitvipers (Genus Bothrops). In: Biology of the vipers (Ed. G. W. Schuett, M. Höggren, M. E. Douglas and H. W. Greene): 307-328. Eagle Mountain Publishing, Eagle Mountain.

NARVAES, P. & RODRIGUES, M. T. 2005. Visual communication, reproductive behavior, and home range of Hylodes dactylocinus (Anura, Leptodactylidae). Phyllomedusa 4: 147-158.

ORLOV, N., ANANJEVA, N. & KHALIKOV, R. 2002. Natural history of pitvipers in eastern and southeastern Asia. In: Biology of the vipers (Ed. G.W. Schuett, M. Höggren, M. E. Douglas and H. W. Greene): 345-359. Eagle Mountain Publishing, Eagle Mountain.

SAZIMA, I. 1988. Um estudo de biologia comportamental da jararaca, Bothrops jararaca, com uso de marcas naturais. Memórias do Instituto Butantan, 50: 83-99.

SAZIMA, I. 1991. Caudal luring in two neotropical pitvipers, Bothrops jararaca and B. jararacussu. Copeia 1991: 245-248.

SAZIMA, I. 1992. Natural history of the jararaca pitviper, Bothrops jararaca, in southeastern Brazil. In: Biology of the pitvipers (Ed. J. A. Campbell and E. D. Brodie, Jr.): 199-216. Selva Press, Tyler.

Previous post

Three new species of the gobiid fish genus Tryssogobius from the western and South Pacific

Next post

Cirrhilabrus cenderawasih, a new wrasse (Pisces: Labridae) from Papua, Indonesia

The Author



No Comment

Leave a reply