Six Australian cold weather frogs and their weird mating calls

Six Australian cold weather frogs and their weird mating calls

Six Australian cold weather frogs and their weird mating calls

Updated 29 July 2017, 12:10 AEST

We dissect what's hot (and what's not) in the mating rituals of the Australian cold weather frogs.

Amphibians have been remarkably slow to take up smartphone-based dating services, preferring instead to stick to time-honoured traditions like "sitting near a body of water and yelling".

In this comprehensive guide, we dissect what's hot (and what's not) in the mating rituals of Australian cold weather frogs.

The WA hooting frog

The male hooting frog has much bigger arms than you might expect, giving the impression that it's been skipping leg day at the gym.

Growing to a whopping nine centimetres, the hooting frog produces huge tadpoles, some of which can reach six centimetres long.

You could be forgiven for thinking the barycragus in its scientific name, Heleiporus barycragus, is a reference to their Barry White-like love song — a deep, soulful hoot that can be heard in south-west WA's Darling Range. (It actually does refer to their deep voice.)

When breeding season arrives, the male digs a short burrow in the side of a temporary creek, and he proceeds to croon. If a lady frog visits, she'll lay up to 500 eggs in the burrow. When the burrow floods in winter, the tadpoles will swim out and start the development of massive front arms all over again.

The hooting frog's conservation status is "of least concern", though almost all frog populations are in decline.

The giant burrowing frog

When the first phrase in the field guide calls you "slow-moving" or "very plump", it must be hard not to take offence.

But what the giant burrowing frog lacks in speed, it makes up for in being built like a proverbial cyclone-proof powder-room. Its reputation as the bad-ass of the frog world is further enhanced by the fact it eats scorpions for elevenses.

Its hooting call is the reason it's sometimes called the owl frog.

Their range is a big a big jelly bean on the map from around the bottom edge of NSW and Victoria, but their conservation status is "vulnerable". Good luck finding one — they're very sneaky.

Its tadpoles stay swimming for an astonishing 11 or so months before metamorphosis and even though the adult frogs are large, they are incredibly difficult to detect and — like all good Monty Python fans — are experts at remaining hidden.

The growling grass frog

It's also called the "warty swamp frog", though that name doesn't really do the species justice: they have a simply stunning colouration, even if their call sounds like a peewee motorbike coughing into life.

Their love life could be a hot tub scene from a bad skiing movie: the males call the females from a pool of water at night, telling them how well equipped they are to deal with a life of froggy fatherhood.

If the females decide they're up for it, amplexus ensues, which looks like the much smaller male holding onto the female in a piggy back for dear life. Eggs are then laid in little floaty clumps in the waterway, and stunning pink and yellow tadpoles emerge.

The tadpoles fend for themselves, and they've got a hard time of it, because adult growling grass frogs have been observed eating young of the same species.

They're found in Tasmania, Victoria and bits of neighbouring NSW and SA, and they're rated as vulnerable (but endangered in NSW).

The WA moaning frog

It doesn't get much cuter than the rotund moaning frog, whose howling choruses have annoyed generations of Perth residents.

They live in the ground and breed during autumn, rather than spring. This way, their eggs are laid in an area that is likely to be inundated by winter rains, and their tadpoles will be nice and moist.

The male digs a burrow with a special chamber at the end and will mournfully call out to the universe for a suitable mate. If the female likes what she hears, she'll do the amphibian equivalent of the right swipe, and lay a hundred or more eggs in foam in the bottom of the burrow.

Moaning frogs are found near the coast in south-west WA. Their conservation status is "least concern", but they're quite concerningly loud if you have one in your backyard.

So if a moaning frog is keeping you awake, the WA Museum recommends filling his burrow gently with water from the hose a couple of nights running.

He'll decide it's not a good place to woo his lady frog and move to your neighbour's backyard so you can listen to the moans at a humane distance. A reminder: all native animals in Australia are legally protected.

The Blue Mountains tree frog

This frog has classic Australian 1970s muscle-car cred with pin-striping right from the tip of its nose down each side in a fetching brown with gold highlights.

You could say they're a bit showy to look at, but their call has been likened to a golf ball falling into a hole.

In spring, males sing their golf-ball siren song from a variety of positions near flowing water to try to woo the female frog. If successful mating occurs, the eggs are laid in the water and will flow on to a quiet part of the stream and sink to the bottom, sticking to a rock.

Confusingly also called the "variegated river tree frog" (I mean, pick a watercourse or a plant), this frog is found close to the coast of the lower third of NSW and at the pointy end of Victoria. Its conservation status is "of least concern".

The Victorian smooth froglet

This is a quintessential "small brown blob" frog. It is hard for an amateur to distinguish it from other frogs — its most distinctive feature is probably its call, which consists of two different parts.

Professor Murray Littlejohn from the University of Melbourne has managed to decode what this frog is actually saying, and found its call has a partitioning of function: the two parts of the call mean two different things.

The "wark" is aimed at other males to delineate territory. The "pips" are used to attract females — in fact, they'll only respond to the pips

It could be argued that this is the start of language. Found across the pointier half of Victoria, the population is rated as stable.

All recordings courtesy of Professor Murray Littlejohn. Listen to the full episode of Off Track to hear more about his extraordinary library of frog recordings spanning five decades.