Even the Frogs Are Into Throuples Now

A male Thoropa taophora, living and loving out loud. Photo: Fábio de Sá

Finally, science has added another species to the list of creatures that have bravely decided to shirk the traditional constraints of monogamy, and embrace a more open, expansive vision of love. As the New York Times reports, a paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances confirmed that, during its breeding season, the male Thoropa taophora — a river frog with “surprisingly well-muscled forearms” in Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest — will mate “recurrently and exclusively” with two unrelated females, thus forming an amphibious throuple of sorts. Nice.

The findings were significant because, up until that point, researchers had found that most male frogs tended to be either monogamous, or to mate with many females, but have little or no fidelity to the those females. But the Thoropa taophora said, “There’s a third option, fellas — you can mate with two gals, but also be exclusive with them. That way, you get to sleep with multiple people, but still enjoy the experience of connecting with someone on a deeper level. And then, you don’t have to to put all of your biological, sexual, and emotional needs on the shoulders of one person. It’s a much more evolved form of relationship, if you think about it.”

Is this set-up as fun for the female frogs? Sadly, it doesn’t seem so. Female frogs are often forced into these situations by necessity. Thoropa mating depends on what are called seeps — wet and rocky habitats where the frog’s eggs can mature into tadpoles. Male frogs fight over control of the seeps, and when all of the seeps in an area have been claimed, female frogs must get in line in the hopes of gaining “consistent membership” in some frog guy’s micro-harem. Once there, one female is usually deemed the “dominant” consort, and gets the most time with the male, while the other females are secondary, or even tertiary mates, which seems rude, but I’m not a frog and I guess as long as they know what they’re signing on for it’s okay.

Even once a frog throuple’s dynamics are established, sharing can be difficult for the female frogs. Researchers noted that, occasionally, when a female frog would arrive at her guys seep for a lay, she would try to eat some of the other female’s eggs that were already there. The male would then intervene, clasping his arms around the female from behind to prevent her from murdering the children of their third. According to the Times, although this resembled a mating position, it didn’t always end in sex: “sometimes the male seemed to simply wrap the female in a platonic embrace,” what Lauren O’Connell, a biologist at Stanford University, described as a “distraction hug.”

Still, scientists insist this set up benefits the female frogs. As Kelly Zamudio, a biologist at Cornell University and one of the authors on the study explained, it’s much better to be a secondary, or even third female in a group, because “at least you have a chance of laying some eggs with the male, rather than going off to be on your own.”

Sure. I mean, whatever works for them, you know. In any case, hopefully they’re able to find a nice, wet seep with three sinks.

Even the Frogs Are Into Throuples Now