Do you speak frog? Phil Bishop does. With a PhD in “acoustic communication in amphibians”, Bishop is an expert in how frogs use sound to express their sex, species and even genetic fitness. “Basically if one slimy creature’s groping another slimy creature in the dark, they want to be sure they’re not groping something that turns out to be a different species, is the same sex, or is their sister.” Raised in the UK, Bishop undertook his doctoral research in South Africa, where his interest also extended to the conversational skills of dung beetles and hippos.
But his first love is frogs: “the first vertebrates on the planet to use air-borne sound to communicate”. It was the exception to this rule, however, that brought Bishop to New Zealand. Here, native frogs are generally silent, prompting him to ask how they find their mates. And, after studying native frog populations in the Marlborough Sounds, he can now report: they release chemicals and smells. New Zealand is a great place to be a zoologist, Bishop says. “There’s still hope here. “I teach a paper in biodiversity, and the Government places huge emphasis on protecting our wide range of plants, fish, birds, insects and, yes, frogs. “That doesn’t happen elsewhere in the world – in many places they destroyed their biodiversity long ago.” Phil is currently a professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Otago.
FROG KAMA SUTRA
Have you ever wondered about the sex lives of frogs? Professor Phil Bishop has. Out of more than 7,400 species of amphibians, only one species of frog has anything that slightly resembles a penis. Yet many have internal fertilisation and many use unusual and sometimes bizarre positions and movements to achieve successful fertilization.