Magazine article Science News

Mr. Not Wrong: Not My Species? Not a Problem

Magazine article Science News

Mr. Not Wrong: Not My Species? Not a Problem

Article excerpt

Female toads that flirt with a male of another species may have their own best interests at heart.

The plains spadefoot toad spawns offspring that grow up faster if dad is a different species called the Mexican spadefoot, says Karin Pfennig of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The toads begin life as tadpoles in pools of water that can dry up quickly, so a little hop forward in speed of maturation can mean the difference between life and death. Pfennig has now found that in tough times, females tend to prefer Mexican males to plains males.

Spadefoot toads take their name from foot flaps that help the toads dig into mud. In winter, adult toads shovel their way underground and hibernate inside a mud cocoon. But tadpoles can't survive without a pond, so each mating season becomes a race between the next drought and the growing tadpoles.

In earlier research, Marie Simovich of the University of San Diego reported that the plains spadefoot toad (Spea bombifrons) hybridized with the Mexican spadefoot (Spea multiplicata) when they happened to share shallow pools. The hybrids were more likely to turn up in the shallowest pools that would dry out earliest.


Evidence suggested that the mixed offspring don't reproduce as readily as the purebred young of each species. Purebred Mexican tadpoles mature fast, however, and the hybrids beat by a day or two the 4 weeks that the plains tadpoles typically take to mature. …

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