There’s nothing like the sound of a rusty saw blade grinding on metal, especially when the sound is meant to be some sort of love call. Heard in spring, at least in our neighborhood, this grating chorus cuts the air just as darkness descends. Right on schedule, a normally quiet pond near our home erupts into a raucous din, announcing in no uncertain terms that our neighboring frogs have awakened, and the party is on.
Those air-splitting sounds actually make female frogs swoon. Soon the pond will house a new generation of these amphibians (animals at home in both air and water). If conditions aren’t favorable for a performance, (for example if winds are strong), females won’t hear the call, so the males remain silent… smart move; why waste energy? Besides, being noisy may give away the males’ location to predators. So if you’re a wise masculine frog, you time your symphony carefully; otherwise, you shut up.
Each species has its own special vocalization. Females of some species may prefer a higher or lower pitched call; it could forecast the quality of the resulting offspring. In spring, female frogs lay eggs in clusters in calm waters protected by vegetation. Once fertilized by the male, the eggs develop tadpoles that ultimately break free.
More heard than seen, these amphibians have been around since the Permian Age, i.e. 250 million years. Frogs occupy both land and water, and are found everywhere on the planet (except Antarctica). They’re pretty good at surviving, thanks to some interesting defenses.
Certain body striping may provide camouflage, or gaudy colors may announce that “Hey, I taste awful!” Some species can inhale huge gulps of air, appearing far too big to be swallowed. Bulging eyes of other species gives frogs a panoramic view of their surroundings, great for avoiding enemies. Some rely on “chemical warfare,” special glands that secrete poison. In fact, some of America’s native tribes once coated their arrows with frog poison to assure a successful hunt. But for “most exotic weaponry,” I vote for the False-Eyed frog; it sports two artistic eye spots on its back that ooze a foul-smelling liquid.
Frogs dine on bugs, spiders, worms, slugs, larvae and small fish…anything that fits into that gaping mouth. A frog’s sticky tongue flashes out fast, snapping back at about fifteen-hundredths of a second! In turn, the frogs themselves grace the menus of bats, herons, fish, raccoons, turtles, snakes, and humans…Nature’s give and take.
Frogs are efficient reproducers, so perhaps we won’t run out of them anytime soon. But…there’s always a “but.” Recent arrivals to the area, bullfrogs and green frogs, are large, aggressive, and here to stay. They prefer big ponds, thus forcing our own endemic species into smaller ones (one-quarter acre or less), which aren’t very permanent. Unprotected by logging rules, they often get drained and poisoned by harvest practices. So the large newcomers may eventually take over.
In the meantime, we have good reason to love our native-born frogs for keeping insects under control. When spring evenings no longer broadcast frog music, we’ll know something’s been lost. Note to self: this spring, remember to occasionally sit outside at dusk and appreciate Nature’s strident symphony.