Homing trajectories and initial orientation in a Neotropical territorial frog, Allobates femoralis (Dendrobatidae)

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Introduction The ability to relocate home or breeding sites after experimental removal has been observed in several amphibians and the sensory basis of this behavior has been studied in some temperate-region species. However, the actual return trajectories have rarely been quantified in these studies and it remains unknown how different cues guide the homing behavior. Dendrobatidae (dart-poison frogs) exhibit some of the most complex spatial behaviors among amphibians, such as territoriality and tadpole transport. Recent data showed that Allobates femoralis, a frog with paternal tadpole transport, successfully returns to the home territories after experimental translocations of up to 400-m. In the present study, we used harmonic direction finding to obtain homing trajectories. Additionally, we quantified the initial orientation of individuals, translocated 10-m to 105-m, in an arena assay. Results Tracking experiments revealed that homing trajectories are characterized by long periods of immobility (up to several days) and short periods (several hours) of rapid movement, closely fitting a straight line towards the home territory. In the arena assay, the frogs showed significant homeward orientation for translocation distances of 35-m to 70-m but not for longer and shorter distances. Conclusions Our results describe a very accurate homing behavior in male A. femoralis. The straightness of trajectories and initial homeward orientation suggest integration of learned landmarks providing a map position for translocated individuals. Future research should focus on the role of learning in homing behavior and the exact nature of cues being used.

Frontiers in Zoology. 2014 Mar 25;11(1):29