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First case of male alloparental care in amphibians: tadpole stealing in Darwin’s frogs

Osvaldo Cabeza-Alfaro, Andrés Valenzuela-Sánchez, Mario Alvarado-Rybak, José M. Serrano, Claudio Azat*

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ABSTRACT: Alloparental care, care directed at non-descendant offspring, has been rarely described in amphibians. Rhinoderma darwinii is an endangered and endemic frog of the temperate forests of Chile and Argentina. This species has evolved a unique reproductive strategy whereby males brood their tadpoles within their vocal sacs (known as neomelia). Since 2009 the National Zoo of Chile has been working in an ex situ conservation programme on R. darwinii, in which during reproduction adults are kept in terraria in groups of 2 females with 2 males. In September 2018, a couple engaged in amplexus, with one of the males fertilizing the eggs. Twenty days later, the second male (the alloparent) ingested all the 8 viable recently hatched tadpoles, releasing 2 froglets 9 wk later. This unusual behaviour observed in captivity, is complemented by observations in the field of male R. darwinii brooding tadpoles of markedly different size, possibly reflecting the brooding of tadpoles from different ovipositions. To our knowledge, this is the first case of male alloparental care in amphibians and an example of captive breeding programmes contributing important knowledge about the natural history of threatened species.