Are Frogs Gay?

You may have heard in popular culture that frogs are gay. But are frogs truly interested in the opposite gender of their own species? 

Although there are 500 animal species that are recognized to display homosexual behavior in nature, only two types of frogs among over 7,400 frog species are on the list. Frogs reproduce sexually by amplexus through external fertilization, meaning a male and female are required for reproduction.

This article provides an easy-to-understand look at the theory of frogs being gay as well as a deeper dive into how frogs are being used to represent human sexual identity and sexual orientation. We will also discuss Alex Jone’s theory on contaminated “water turning frogs gay” and what this truly means for humans.

Frogs Reproduce Sexually

Frogs reproduce sexually by amplexus through external fertilization, meaning a male and female frog are required for reproduction. The female frog releases her eggs into the water and the male frog simultaneously releases sperm cells to fertilize the eggs.

Frogs do not have external genitalia and only a few distinguishing factors can help differentiate male frogs from female frogs. Male frogs generally have vocal sacs they use to call females during mating season, they can be smaller or larger than female frogs depending on the species, and their thumbs may be enlarged during mating season (nuptial pad). Female and male frogs may also be of different colors (Lambert et al 2017).

Since frogs do not have external genitalia like humans, how frogs mate may be confusing to people. This may be one reason for the number of misconceptions about frogs, their sexuality, gender, and sexual preferences.

Male Frogs Call Female Frogs During Mating Season

During mating season, male frogs use their vocal sacs to call female frogs of the same species to their location in order to reproduce. This generally takes place in the Spring in temperate climates, during rainy, wet, or Monsoon seasons, or all year round in the Rainforest.

Frogs are solitary creatures that do not remain with their mates after reproduction. Toads are known to return to the pond where they were born to reproduce but then head back to land alone until the next mating season. Frogs generally only reproduce during mating season to ensure the survival of their species.

Male / Male Frog Amplexus is Accidental

During mating season, male frogs may accidentally mount another male, another species, a dead female, inanimate objects, or multiple frogs when there is competition for few females. Male frogs go through a trial-and-error process looking for females of the same species that have not yet reproduced.

Many scientific studies found that frogs attempt to mate with male frogs, other species, and even inanimate objects. (Simović et al 2014). A frog’s search for a mate is often a trial-and-error endeavor as they “attempt to clasp practically any moving object”  (Wells,  1977; Berven, 1981). But the male frog moves on once it realizes what it is holding is not a female it can reproduce with.

Male frogs may mount a female that has already reproduced, but she will generally give out a cry or vibration indicating this to the male. The male will then move on to try to find another female frog that has not yet laid her eggs. If there are many males and not enough females, frogs can become very aggressive resulting in multiple amplexus that can cause the female’s death (Mollov et. al 2010).

“The reproductive strategy for male B. bufo may be to clasp quickly every moving animal of similar size and then determine whether it is a female.”

Mollov et al. 2010

When I was a kid my wild pet toad grabbed onto my thumb in an amplexus position. Although it freaked me out, that does not mean toads want to mate with a human hand. It was a personal hands-on experience (literally) where I learned that toads and frogs may grab onto anything during mating season.

Only Two Frog Species May Display Homosexual Behaviour

According to Ph.D. Biologist and Researcher Bruce Bagemihl’s 1999 book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, over 500 animals and two types of frogs are known to display homosexual behavior: the Tengger Desert Toad and Black-Spotted Frog (CTNF).

There are over 7,400 recognized frog species in the World and the number is constantly growing as we discover more and more types of frogs. But only 2 of 7,200 species have been recognized to display homosexual behavior, which does not necessarily mean sexual activity. However:

“The strongly male-biased OSR [Operational Sex Ratio] is the probable reason for the occurring of male-male amplexus, which occurs quite rarely and usually continues for a short period of time. According to Marco et al (1998) the male B. boreas, for example, does not discriminate between sexes before attempting amplexus.” 

Mollov et. al 2010

Male frogs mate with females and may mount males in amplexus during the mating season as they attempt to look for a female that has not yet laid her eggs. Male to male amplexus generally does not last long and the frog will move on to try to find a female that has not yet reproduced. 

Further research is required to understand rare occurrences of female to female amplexus. Scientists have observed “false amplexus” that have a different motivation than “real amplexus,” but further research is required to better understand the reasons for these occurrences (Malashichev, 1999).

Therefore, there is no scientific evidence that frogs are “gay.”

The Alex Jones “Turning The Frogs Gay” Theory

Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist, claimed that chemicals in water are “turning the frogs gay” in a viral YouTube video in 2015. The video has since been removed from YouTube as his channel was terminated in 2018 for hate speech against ethnic and sexual minorities.

Alex Jones based his claims on a scientific study by Hayes et al. 2010: “Atrazine induces complete feminization and chemical castration in male African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis).” However, the study does not examine or discuss frogs being homosexual. The study discusses the effects of the pesticide Atrazine on frog gender, not sexual orientation.

Alex Jones also inferred the findings of Hayes et al 2010 concerning the effects of Atrazine on frogs to the effects it may have on humans. But the effects of Atrazine on humans are not the focus of Hayes et al 2010. 

“The reason there are so many gay people now is because it’s a chemical warfare operation. I have the government documents where they said they’re going to encourage homosexuality with chemicals so people don’t have children.”

Alex Jones, 2010, YouTube

So how did a research paper that has nothing to do with human sexual orientation become the foundation for claims that water containing Atrazine can “make humans gay?”

Let’s dive in deeper.

Who is Alex Jones And What is His “Gay Frog” Theory?

According to Wikipedia, Alex Jones “is an American far-right radio show host and conspiracy theorist. New York magazine has described Jones as “America’s leading conspiracy theorist”, and the Southern Poverty Law Center describes him as “the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America”.

Alex Jones claimed in a viral video that the government is poisoning the water with Atrazine “making the frogs gay.”  His channel was terminated by YouTube in August 2018 after posting videos that contained hate speech against Muslim and transgender people.

As we have demonstrated by looking at scientific research, frogs have not been scientifically proven to be “gay,” nor have they been proven to “turn gay” due to the presence of pesticides in water. No recognized scientific study confirms that Atrazine can change a frog’s sexual orientation. 

Although Hayes et al (2010) briefly stated: “Furthermore, atrazine exposure is highly correlated (P < 0.009) with low sperm count, poor semen quality, and impaired fertility in humans”, the document Hayes et al are referring to in this section is also focused on frogs: A W-linked DM-domain gene, DM-W, participates in primary ovary development in Xenopus laevis (Yoshimoto et al 2007).

Scientists have, however, linked high pesticide levels to intersex frogs (Skelly, 2010), but have also found that intersexuality and gender reversal in frogs may be a natural occurrence (Lambert, 2019).

An Incorrect Amalgamation of Sexual Orientation & Sexual Identity

Alex Jones claimed the water is turning frogs gay. But “gay” is a sexual orientation, not a sexual identity or gender. Maybe he meant that pesticides in water are making frogs intersex since that is what was discussed in Hayes’ study, but that is not what Alex Jones publicly claimed. 

Hayes’ (et al 2010) study focuses on intersex frogs or frogs that are neither female nor male suggesting that pesticides can influence a frog’s gender or sex reversal. But there is also scientific evidence indicating that intersexuality in frogs may be a natural occurrence (Lambert, 2019).

Frogs breathe and drink through their skin. This process is especially important for aquatic frogs, like the African Clawed Frog, one of the few fully aquatic frog species and main species used in Hayes’ study. Frogs are very susceptible to polluted water since chemicals can penetrate their thin skin. 

But can pollution make frogs or humans gay or intersex? And what is the difference? Let’s explore the difference between sexual orientation, sexual identity, and gender in more detail.

“Gay” is a Sexual Orientation 

Sexual orientation is a spectrum that encompasses emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction including opposite-sex attraction (heterosexuality), same-sex attraction (homosexuality), either sex attraction (bisexuality), attraction to any sexual identity (pansexual), or no attraction (asexuality).

As we have already covered in this article, frogs reproduce sexually and are solitary animals. Although two known frog species may display homosexual behaviors, frogs require a male and female to reproduce. Male frogs may accidentally grab another male by amplexus during mating season, but this generally does not last long and is a natural part of their process to find a suitable female.

Intersex is a Sexual Identity / Gender

Sexual identity is a personal internal, external, or psychological sense of gender and can include identification as a woman, a man, as both, intersex, or non-binary (neither male nor female). Some people may transition from one sex to the other (transgender) to best represent who they are.

Male frogs may become intersex or experience sex reversal, or become female due to the presence of pesticides (Hayes et al 2010), but this may also be a natural occurrence. As Lambert (2019) suggests that “sex reversal may be a relatively natural process in amphibians.”

“While sex reversal and intersex are often considered aberrant responses to human activities and associated pollution, we found no such associations here. Our data perhaps begin to suggest that, relative to what is often suggested, sex reversal may be a relatively natural process in amphibians.”

Lambert et al (2019)

Homosexuality & Intersexuality Are Not Uncommon in Nature

According to Ph.D. Biologist and Researcher Bruce Bagemihl’s 1999 book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity over 500 animals are known to display homosexual behavior. 

“[Researchers] […] must realize that animals can have sex with who they will, when they will and without consideration to a researcher’s ethical principles”.

Petter Bøckman, academic adviser for the Against Nature? exhibit

Intersexuality is also common in nature with many types of snails, worms, echinoderms, and fish that are naturally hermaphrodites. Contrary to popular belief, many humans are also born intersex.

So why are human sexual orientations, sexual identities, and frogs being amalgamated? 

Let’s explore further.

Human Sexuality Being Compared to Frogs

What do intersex frogs have to do with humans?

Alex Jone’s “turning frogs gay” claims is that being gay is wrong and is linked to Atrazine in water. His conspiracy theory is if a human drinks such water, they could become gay. However, there is no scientific evidence that polluted water modifies human or amphibian sexual orientation.

No Scientific Evidence That Water Containing Atrazine Can Make Humans Gay

Pesticides have scientifically been proven to have negative effects on humans and animals, notably aquatic frogs that are susceptible to being exposed to such chemicals in their habitats. However, there is no scientific evidence that Atrazine can change frog or human sexual orientation.

Some politicians, like Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Susan King, also claimed that chemicals in water are “turning people gay.” Michael Segalov, a writer for Vice wrote “I spoke to eight scientists in total, and not one of them gave King’s views a drop of credence.” 

“It’s a very long way from saying chemicals in the water are changing people’s DNA and changing their sexuality. There is no evidence that this is the case.”

Stuart Haylock, biochemist, Imperial College London to Michael Segalov, Vice

There is a lack of scientific evidence as to what truly influences a person’s sexual orientation, may that possibly be DNA, genetics, environmental factors, or others. All in all, frog chromosomes are very different from those of humans (O’Laughlin, 2020).

Non-Binary, Non-Heterosexual Individuals Have Always Existed 

The existence of intersex animals and humans precedes the existence and use of synthetic pesticides. 

Non-binary individuals and non-heterosexual individuals were documented in ancient history from Ancient Judaism to Ancient Rome, and Ancient Greece. How they were treated depended heavily on social-cultural norms. Intersex individuals were recognized as two-spirit and celebrated in many Native American tribes, but were considered monsters, persecuted, and killed in colonial Christianity. 

Homosexuals have either been celebrated or prosecuted throughout history and in some places, homosexuality is still a recognized crime today. Similarly, still today, intersex gender is not always acknowledged or recognized in biology classes around the world (CTNF).

Although sexual minorities have not always been recognized, this does not mean they have not always existed. 

Out of fear of prosecution or death, many non-binary, non-heterosexual people lived their lives in fear and hid their truth. Thanks to much-needed social shifts, they can now live their sexual identities and orientations more openly and freely in certain societies today. 

This may explain why some people, like Alex Jones, think “there are so many gay people now.” It’s not necessary that there are more gay people in liberal societies like in Canada or parts of the United States. It is that much-needed social shifts are allowing non-binary, non-heterosexual people to live more openly, to show that they exist and to gain the same rights as everyone else.

Derogatory Language Against Intersex Individuals

Hayes used pathologizing, binary language such as “demasculinization”, “castration”, and “abnormal” when discussing intersex frogs (Hayes et al. 2010). These terms were in turn used by others like Alex Jones to compare the findings with humans.

“Hayes […] believes his unconventional presentation style and using inflammatory language “to piss off the chemical companies” is central to this success.”

Natalie O’Laughlin, 2020

The issue with this derogatory terminology is that it can affect how already marginalized intersex people are being treated in society. 

The study used to justify the “water turning frogs gay” theory was not about the sexual orientation of frogs or humans. This created an amalgamation of unrelated claims on frogs and human sexual orientation, sexual identity, and gender that can have real-world consequences on people.

The “Gay Frog” Theory Can Have Real-World Consequences

The “Gay Frog” theory that has been used by politicians and conspiracy theorists in their campaigns to grow their popularity can have real-world consequences, notably fueling preexisting social divides and violence against sexual minorities.

According to the Open Society Foundation “in some parts of the world, people who have visible intersex traits, such as ambiguous genitalia, face abandonment, and violence. Many intersex people are subjected to unnecessary medical interventions and some babies born with intersex characteristics are murdered.”

Intersex children are often medicated or undergo sex-determining surgeries, sometimes without the knowledge or consent of the parents. The existence of intersex individuals is often not even acknowledged in our binary culture, presuming they do not exist.

“The fact that these inflammatory descriptions evoke laughter, shares, and retweets suggests that they align with longstanding ideologies in contemporary US society that presume intersex is (1) an aberration of traditional anatomical development; (2) a sexual perversion (lacking an easily identifiable binary sex is an immediate failure to be a heterosexual subject since heterosexuality presumes the existence of only two sexes); and (3) an immediate sign of infertility.

Natalie O’Laughlin, 2020

The Reason The “Gay Frog” Theory Went Viral

Fuelling this rhetoric is fear of sterility and the inability to reproduce (O’Laughlin, 2020), the “extinction of white people” and anxiety associated with the decline of white male social dominance (Meg Perret, 2020).

In the context of the rhetoric of male decline, white heterosexual masculinity becomes an endangered species.

Meg Perret (2020)

There may also be a larger societal lack of knowledge (for example with regards to the existence of intersex people), understanding or will to understand sexual minorities that can come into play when such content goes viral.

Why Are Frogs a Symbol of Gay Pride?

Since you now know that frogs are not gay, then you may be wondering why are they are sometimes used as a symbol of gay pride. One of the reasons is re-appropriation, and another may be based on misinformation.

The Reappropriation of a Negative Symbol

The term “gay” and “queer” were used as derogatory terms for a long time before they were reappropriated by the LGBTQIA2+ community. The “gay frogs” theory may have also pushed for a reappropriation of frogs as a symbol of gay pride.

According to Nathan Nayer, a Staff Writer for Panther Now, frogs may be the queer mascot, or choice pet for the LGBTQIA2+ community for the following reasons:

  • The popularity of queer frog influencers on social media
  • The recent popularity of the children’s book series Frog And Toad by Arnold Lobel
  • Identification with how frogs are negatively viewed in Religion
  • Frogs being a more gender-neutral symbol compared to unicorns or butterflies

More specifically, intersex frogs can be a symbol for intersex people demonstrating that, just like intersex frogs, intersex individuals exist and have always existed. But, since many people do not know how frogs reproduce, frogs as a gay pride symbol at large may be based on misinformation.

Misinformation And Amalgamation

As demonstrated previously in this article, frogs do not have external genitalia and only a few distinguishing factors can help differentiate male frogs from female frogs. Since frogs do not have external genitalia like humans, frogs’ gender and how they mate may be confusing to people. 

Heck, it is confusing to some frogs that grab onto anything that moves to determine whether it is a female frog of the same species during mating season. This may be a reason for the number of misconceptions about frogs, their sexuality, and sexual preferences. 

Frogs may have become a symbol of gay pride based on misinformation, the “water turning frogs gay” theory, and other influences of popular culture such as the recent surge in popularity of Frog And Toad, since scientifically speaking the vast majority of frogs do not display homosexual behavior.

Conclusion: Are Frogs Really Gay?

Frogs reproduce sexually by amplexus through external fertilization, meaning a male and female frog are required for reproduction. The female frog releases her eggs into the water and the male frog simultaneously releases sperm cells which fertilize the eggs. 

Male frogs may grab onto practically anything including inanimate objects, dead female frogs, and other males in an attempt to find a female of the same species with whom they can reproduce during the mating season. However, these occurrences generally do not last long and the frog will move on.

Although there are 500 animal species that are recognized to display homosexual behavior in nature, only two types of frogs among over 7,400 frog species are on the list (CTNF).

Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist, claimed that chemicals in water are “turning the frogs gay”, inferring that humans being gay is wrong and is linked to pesticides in water. His conspiracy theory is if you drink water containing Atrazine, you could become gay. However, there is no scientific evidence that water containing such pollutants modifies human or amphibian sexual orientation.

Alex Jones based his claims on Hayes (et al 2010) study focused on intersex frogs (not “gay frogs”). 

Such rhetoric amalgamates sexual orientation and sexual identity, and infers that intersex individuals are “abnormal,” further marginalizing sexual minorities.

Frogs may have become a symbol of gay pride at large based on misinformation, but frogs can still be excellent symbols to represent the intersex and transgender communities. But before you go buy a pet frog to show your support please read this article about why having a pet frog may be a bad idea.

Common Questions Related to Gay Frogs

Do frogs reproduce asexually? Frogs reproduce sexually by amplexus through external fertilization, meaning a male and female frog are required for reproduction. The female frog releases her eggs into the water and the male frog simultaneously releases sperm cells which fertilize the eggs.

Can frogs change gender? Some frogs can change their gender from male to female. Intersex gender and sex reversal in frogs have been studied in Cricket Frogs (Reeder et al 1998), African Clawed Frogs (Hayes et al 2010), Green Frogs (Skelly et al 2010), and Wood Frogs (Lambert et al 2019) for example.

Are frogs unisex? Most frogs are unisex, so either male or female, but some frogs are intersex meaning they are both male and female. Frogs may also naturally transition from male to female by sex reversal.

Sources

Bagemihl, Bruce (1999). Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. St. Martin’s Press ISBN 0-312-19239-8

Berven, K.A. (1981): Mate choice in the wood frog, Rana sylvatica. Evolution 35: 707–722.

Hayes, T. B., Collins, A., Lee, M., Mendoza, M., Noriega, N., Stuart, A. A., & Vonk, A. (2002). Hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(8), 5476-5480.

Hayes, Tyrone B et al. (2010) “Atrazine induces complete feminization and chemical castration in male African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis).” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 107,10: 4612-7. doi:10.1073/pnas.0909519107

Lambert, Max & Tran, Tien & Kilian, Andrzej & Ezaz, Tariq & Skelly, David. (2019). Molecular evidence for sex reversal in wild populations of green frogs (Rana clamitans). PeerJ. 7. e6449. 10.7717/peerj.6449. 

Lambert, Max & Carlson, Bradley & Smylie, Meredith & Swierk, Lindsey. (2017). Ontogeny of Sexual Dichromatism in the Explosively Breeding Wood Frog. Herpetological Conservation and Biology. 12. 447-456. 

Malashichev, Yegor. (1999). FEMALE AMPLEXUS IN A YELLOW-BELLIED TOAD, Bombina variegata.

Michael Segalov, Vice, 2017, A Quick Refresher: The Truth About Water Making You Gay

Mollov, Ivelin & Popgeorgiev, Georgi & Naumov, Borislav & Tzankov, Nikolay & Stoyanov, Andrey. (2010). Cases of abnormal amplexus in anurans (Amphibia: Anura) from Bulgaria and Greece. Biharean Biologist. 4. 121-125. 

Nathan Nayer, Panther Now, 2021, Are Frogs the Queer Mascot?

O’Laughlin, Logan Natalie. (2020). Troubling figures: Endocrine disruptors, intersex frogs, and the logics of environmental science. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, 6(1), 1-28 http://www.catalystjournal.org | ISSN: 2380-3312

Perret, Meg (2020): “Chemical Castration”: White Genocide and Male Extinction in Rhetoric of Endocrine Disruption, NicheCanada.org 

Reeder, A., Foley, G., Nichols, D., Hansen, L., Wikoff, B., Faeh, S., . . . Beasley, V. (1998). Forms and Prevalence of Intersexuality and Effects of Environmental Contaminants on Sexuality in Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans). Environmental Health Perspectives, 106(5), 261-266. doi:10.2307/3434013

Skelly DK, Bolden SR, Dion KB. Intersex frogs concentrated in suburban and urban landscapes. Ecohealth. 2010 Sep;7(3):374-9. doi: 10.1007/s10393-010-0348-4. Epub 2010 Sep 23. PMID: 20862600.

Simović, Aleksandar & Anderson, Nils & Marko, Andjelković & Slađana, Gvozdenović & Nikolić, Sonja. (2014). Unusual amplexus between anurans and caudate. Herpetology Notes. 7. 25-29. 

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Wells,  K.D.  (1977): The social behaviour of anuran amphibians. Animal Behaviour 25: 666–693

HealthLink BC, Sexual Orientation

Wikipedia, List of mammals displaying homosexual behavior

Wikipedia, Alex Jones

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Amphibiaweb.org, Amphibians by the numbers