I have been raising frogs and toads each spring for roughly 40 years. Amphibians are the most vulnerable species on earth and we are losing them at an alarming rate. Because they breathe through their skin they are also an indicator species, ‘canaries’ alerting scientists to the consequences of air and water pollution for humans.
I have had a life long relationship with these amazing animals, having raised them as a child, so it seemed quite natural to continue to gather eggs and tadpoles as an adult after I moved here to the mountains. Learning in the seventies that they were at risk, my initial hope was that in some small way I might help reverse the trajectory we were on.
At first I dug in a small pond next to my brook, and later opened and deepened another area over a spring creating a vernal pool that normally dried up in August. For thirty years I raised peepers, wood frogs, and toads.
This year was different. ‘Reading’ the bizarre weather pattern in April with its fierce northwest winds, endless dry blue days, fierce heat waves and cold, I knew that I could only choose a few amphibians to raise because my vernal pool would disappear in the drought. When the hoarse croaks of mating wood frogs alerted me to egg laying in the vernal pool I immediately transferred the two clumps to my new sunken wooden barrel, situated outside my porch door (the first oak barrel pond rotted away after 20 years). Although I could hear some peepers singing through the woods in a neighbor’s pond I reluctantly gave up the idea of increasing that population for this year. Instead I chose a few toads to join the wood frogs. By the time the toads arrived in May as tiny toadpoles, I had healthy fat wood frog tadpoles with luminescent bellies feasting on red lettuce and other pond greenery. I was careful not to overload the little oasis fearing the cannibalization that can occur if too many tadpoles are left together without adequate food.
It is now September and the wood frogs have completed their transformation from egg to frog and have disappeared into the woods. Those that survive will return to this natal pool to reproduce next year. Some toadpoles remain, but most have transformed into miniature versions of the adult toad and are hopping around in the tall grass.
Oddly, one morning in July I met an adult wood frog warming himself on the stones that circle the oasis that is still surrounded by wild greenery that sprung up around the pond like a jungle, almost as if the plants knew that frogs needed those plants for protection. Because it is rare to see these shy woodland amphibians with their golden masks as adults I was delighted by the brief visit.
The best part of keeping an oasis like this is that it doesn’t dry up regardless of lack of precipitation. Although we have finally had summer rain after four months of drought the water table remains pitifully low and the surface water is temporary – shades of the future I am certain. This little pond may allow me to continue to raise a few amphibians for my pleasure, and perhaps it will help me to accept the harsh reality of how Climate Change may make it impossible for (many/all?) frogs and toads to reproduce at all. I no longer raise frogs because I think I am helping the species survive. I raise them because I love them.
In late June a two inch Green frog moved into the pond. In July two more arrived and now I have five inhabiting that little pool! I have had Green frogs appear in my pond every summer since I have lived here but I have never raised one from a tadpole or egg. So where do they come from? I knew that Green frogs lay their eggs in permanent bodies of water, sometimes brooks (I have never found eggs here), rarely springs or seeps because it takes some almost a year for some to become frogs: the ones born last have to winter over under water that contains enough oxygen to sustain them. These frogs also have a much larger window for mating. In Maine they can lay eggs anytime from May through August. I am very observant – I think I would have noticed if eggs appeared in my vernal pool in May, June or July. It is possible of course that some laid eggs around the springs or in the large sphagnum bog on this property, but again, wouldn’t I have seen them? I visit these places often throughout the summer months because so many wild plants thrive there.
When I recently learned of a neighboring pond I thought I might have the answer. Young juvenile Green frogs can migrate two or three miles to new territories during periods of rain at night. I wish now I had kept a record of the exact day each Green frog arrived. The last one most certainly appeared after a night of warm rain. Every year these summer arrivals stay throughout late fall. Most of the literature suggests these young frogs only venture away from their natal breeding place during the first year. Some even move into the mouths of caves. After that first terrestrial year they return to a permanent body of water or brook; the latter of which I have here. These frogs are often attracted to bodies of flowing water to hibernate because these waters have more available oxygen. They also hibernate under leaf litter and stones in marshy places.
One year on my birthday in September I found a large four inch adult Green frog complete with a bright yellow throat not far from the summer oasis, but all the others I have seen here seem to be around the same size just under two inches. My guess is that they come through, stop over for a season at my pond and then look for a more permanent body of water when they are ready to breed (Most reproduce at one year). What I like best about late spring is going out to feed lettuce to my tadpoles only to discover that the first Green frog has arrived for the season. I have no way of knowing if they predate on my tadpoles but if they do it can’t be often, because I have such a healthy tad/toadpole population.
Because I frequent visit my oasis daily the frogs and tadpoles and I have become friends. They allow me to photograph them and generally go about their business of making a living while I am present. I love to watch the toadpoles come to the surface upside down to feed upon their lettuce. Just yesterday I watched a tiny toadlet accustoming himself to breathing by sitting on a piece of bark that was partly underwater eyeing me with gold rimmed eyes. Today he’s gone… Although other species of frogs seem exempt, Green frogs are still considered game species in some southern states. I find this incomprehensible when all amphibians are the most vulnerable species on earth, and that was before Climate Change hit. Because the general outlook for all frogs is grim I am especially full of gratitude for each frog that spends the summer with me and becomes a friend.