Understanding why females mate multiply is a major issue in evolutionary ecology. We investigated the consequences of an asynchronous arrival pattern on male competition and multiple paternity in the apparently monoandrous agile frog (Rana dalmatina). The largest frogs arrived first and both males and females lost weight significantly during the spawning period. Asynchronous arrival at breeding sites resulted in a male-biased operational sex ratio (OSR). The OSR was more strongly male-biased at the beginning and at the end of the breeding period when the number of satellite males increased. All females mated only once, but multiple paternity within clutches occurred at the beginning and the end of the breeding period. The influence of asynchronous arrival and biased sex ratio suggests that reduced variance or bet-hedging promoting female fitness had only a reduced role in the evolution of polyandry, and polyandry is likely to be associated with male benefits. Polyandry in frogs can be explained either by forced mating as a result of sexual conflict or by clutch piracy. By modifying intrasexual competition, asynchronous arrival and changes in OSR may have a decisive influence upon the evolution of mating systems and favour both polyandry and stable coexistence of alternative mating behaviour. © 2005 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2005, 86, 191–200.