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Love bites: male frogs (Plectrohyla, Hylidae) use teeth scratching to deliver sodefrin precursor-like factors to females during amplexus
Frontiers in Zoology  (IF3.172),  Pub Date : 2021-11-25, DOI: 10.1186/s12983-021-00445-6
Schulte, Lisa M., Martel, An, Cruz-Elizalde, Raciel, Ramírez-Bautista, Aurelio, Bossuyt, Franky

Efficient transfer of chemical signals is important for successful mating in many animal species. Multiple evolutionary lineages of animals evolved direct sex pheromone transmission during traumatic mating—the wounding of the partner with specialized devices—which helps to avoid signal loss to the environment. Although such direct transmission modes of so-called allohormone pheromones are well-documented in invertebrates, they are considered rare in vertebrates. Males of several species of the frog genus Plectrohyla (Hylidae, Anura) have elongated teeth and develop swollen lips during the breeding season. Here we investigated the possibility that these structures are used to scratch the females’ skin and apply allohormone pheromones during traumatic mating in several Plectrohyla species. Our behavioural observations revealed that males press their upper jaw onto the females’ dorsum during amplexus, leaving small skin scratches with their teeth. Histological examinations of the males’ lips identified specialized mucus glands, resembling known amphibian pheromone glands. Whole-transcriptome sequencing of these breeding glands showed high expression of sodefrin precursor-like factor (SPF) proteins, which are known to have a pheromone function in multiple amphibian species. Our study suggests SPF delivery via traumatic mating in several anuran species: the males have specialized breeding glands in the lips for production and secretion and use their elongated teeth as wounding devices for application. We hypothesize that these SPF proteins end up in the females’ circulatory system, where understanding their exact function will require further molecular, physiological and behavioural testing.