Imagine yourself as a young musician with an acoustic guitar, wanting to serenade that girl you have a crush on. All your friends have done this, and you have your song practiced to perfection.
Now imagine doing this on a Sunday evening at a busy mall, where there is music blaring away from all the speakers, and you are surrounded by hundreds of people. To add to that, there are other males around who are also trying to intimidate you by vying for the attention of the same girl. There is a chance your song will not even be heard by her.
This is when you have to shift to a different strategy – maybe, the best way to grab her attention is to put on your best dance moves. This might or might not work for you, but, for the Foot-flagging Frog (Micrixalus aff. saxicola), this move surely works.
In 2013, I set out to photograph and film this frog to feature it in the BBC series ‘Wonders of the Monsoon’. Gururaj KV, Bangalore’s resident frog expert, accompanied us to a small patch of Myristica swamp called Kathalekan, near Jog Falls. Commonly known as the Small Torrent Frog, these diurnal frogs are found in perennial streams of the Western Ghats, in evergreen forests where the temperatures of water, soil and air are relatively low.
The sound of the water in these steams can be quite loud, especially during the monsoon. Calling is not very effective here, since the sound of the flowing water can drown the calls of these frogs. During the breeding season, they take up positions on small rocks in steams, and announce their presence vocally.
When the calling does not work, it is followed by a slow ‘wave’ of the hind legs. The frog slowly stretches out a leg behind his body and when the leg is fully stretched, he opens up his webbed feet and waves it around before folding the leg back.
This display announces to the other males in the area that this rock is his and that he will defend his territory at any cost. If the foot-flagging does not work, they tap their hind feed rapidly. The male specifically turns his back towards the other male and does this, so that the tapping is visible to the male who has just landed on his rock. This is a more energy-efficient way of defending one’s territory than to indulge in physical confrontations.
If that too does not work, then the male physically kicks the challenger out – Kung-fu style! The same wave is used to attract females. Once the dominant male is done shooing away all the other males, he approaches the female and does a series of waves till she accepts him to mate. And if he is lucky, he gets to mate and pass on his genes to the next generation.