farewell, my princes: the big frogboy exodus

newboys-4M Y FIVE BIGGEST HUNKS O’ BURNING BULLFROG have up and gone, the oldest boys out back who I was certain were Prime Prince Material. Sigh. Left me flat, during or just after a dramatic 2.75-inch rainfall recently, without so much as a farewell ribbit. And look at the mere pipsqueaks who have got hold of the larger pool since, which they’d never dare have gone near if the omnivore Big Boys were still around (and that’s a froggirl up top; not big and not even a boy!). What’s up with my frogs? Was it something I said?

newboys2I think I know what’s up, sort of: A frog expert I emailed with last week after my tragic loss confirms that she has seen large movements after rains like I described, perhaps a hunting expedition (meaning they will be back, to breed, shortly) or maybe the move was to find new breeding grounds (a sayonara of the more permanent type).

Bullfrogs (about 3 1/2 to 6 inches in body length) are true aquatic animals, meaning they need a watery environment, period, unlike the Green Frogs (2 to 3 1/2 inches) I am left with (including the sexed-up adult male, above, whose intentions and gender I discern from his yellow throat coloration and the raucous behavior he’s been exhibiting lately). I think he has (bug) eyes for the lady up top. Green Frogs can deal with a terrestrial environment, at least part of the time; bulls cannot…except in big rains, when the opportunity to move presents itself. So off they went, in search of greener pastures, I suppose, perhaps singin’ in the rain.

When it’s wet out, the normally aquatic Bullfrogs can move much longer distances: “They have been anecdotally recorded to move about 1.5 km or more, astonishing as that may sound,” says Megan Gahl, an environmental scientist and co-author of a recent study at the University of Maine on Bullfrogs’ use of seasonal pools, published in the journal “Wetlands.”

new-boys-3Once breeding gets under way, they are less likely to move this way, she says. Hurry back, boys, or it’s over between us. Eek; unimaginable. But seriously, how can you leave me with little guys like that young green, above? He’s cute, I guess, but really! Not my type.

More amazing details to share in the wake of this separation-anxiety event: You can also tell boys from girls in bulls and even greens by the size of their, er, tympanum. No, that’s not something dirty: It’s their eardrum. Girls have tympanum equal to or smaller than their eye size, the boys’ are bigger. And then there’s this magic story:

A few days after the bulls left, the medium-sized frogs (greens and leopards), who as I say would never have dared go near the biggest of my three water features just 30 feet away for fear of being eaten, all hopped across the lawn together in an amphibian moving-up ceremony, as if on cue. The biggest pool is now theirs. The medium-sized pool they used to use: Now my smallest frogs, one-year greens and the occasional Leopard Frog and so forth, have all shacked up there.

In the smallest water gardens, nobody now lives. Since the Big Guys are gone, we only have two castes in the system here now, small and medium. Amazing, huh? Talk about adaptation to changes in environment. Talk about opportunism.

So I ask you: What odds do you give me for getting my beloved biggest frogboys back, some of them individuals I have known for three or four or maybe five years each, and could actually tell apart? Don’t believe me? Bullfrogs live an average of seven to nine years in the wild (up to 16 in captivity, says Animal Diversity Web, my favorite reading matter on such topics), and don’t even reach sexual maturity until age 3 to 5 years. And you know my guys were sexy beasts, don’t you recall? I mean, look at them:


Categoriesfrogboys woo woo
    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Michele W, and glad to hear that you like the frogs. Me, too. It’s sunny today and two green frog males are competing out back for attention. Loudmouths. See you soon again.

  1. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Could the frogs have been eaten by snakes, raccoons, some kind of owl, heron or hawk??? I have found parts of birds (tails, wings, and feathers) on my lawn, by the bird feeder. Once I saw a small hawk, dart into a large ornamental grass, and out it came with a small bird in it’s beak. Then one day I saw a hawk, the size of a large chicken, swoop down and grab a squirrel on the ground by the feeder, and it pinned it to the ground. For a good amount of time, the hawk kind of played with it , and then killed it , and after a while flew away with it.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Fred. Yes, they could have been eaten, but because only the 5 largest bullfrogs are gone and everyone else was happily still there, and because it happened right during/after a huge rain, and because there were no body parts (as there always are when skunks or raccoons kill things here, ugh)…and because the biologist I asked said they do travel at this time of year, I am hoping for/betting on migration for food/mating territory. Hope they are OK, just down the road apiece.

  2. Babs says:

    I am also a frog lover and was so surprised to find them disappearing from my pond. Then I spotted a blue heron one day standing in the middle of the pond – going fishing – and there went one of the bullfrogs! Could that be your problem? Love your site!!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Babs. Not this time, but when I had large koi many years ago I had a heron come eat them. My pool is so small it’s not of much interest to herons, thankfully, except once in a blue moon. See you soon again and thank you for your kindness.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Amy, and thanks for the positive feedback. Salamanders are amazing creatures, too with a fascinating life cycle. I have some of them here on the site. There’s this red newt and also this spotted one. Enjoy…and see you soon again, I hope.

  3. Madeline says:

    I first want to say I am brand new to your site and I am just beginning to explore all that is there…wonderful. But I need to respond to your frog story because I have my own. We put in a water feature August of 2006 and it was on Mother’s Day of 2007 that we noticed the frogs! They were part of our outside environment and we enjoyed watching them from the screened porch nearby. We originally had 5 or 6 and one by one they disappeared until finally there are none. We saw 2 come out of hibernation last year and when we returned from a trip mid-Spring of last year…..the remaining 2 were gone! We were frogless all last summer. I hoped we would maybe have some this year but we do not. Why did they go???? I keep hoping they will return or new ones will come but…I am starting to lose hope. We live near the Delaware River and there are a number of small creeks nearby so maybe? maybe? one or two will find their way here? We miss you frogs!!

    1. Margaret says:

      Hello, Madeline, and yes, we do have them here (though not in the little backyard pools). Fascinating animals. Salamanders everywhere…skinks not so commonly seen but here somewhere. :) Some of my frogboys came back in a fall rainstorm (three bulls) and have stayed so far this season. We shall see. The populations shift to take advantage of breeding area, food supply, and so on, as with all of nature. I love when they choose to be here with me.

  4. Jan says:

    Sounds strange and wonderful this sudden migration. I hope the frogboys know what they are doing. Your story makes me think of cats I have known who disappeared for days, weeks, or, in the case of one cat, months, then showed up at the back door. I think some or all of the boys will come back.

  5. Becky says:

    We live in central West Virginia and moved into our home about 8 years ago. We have a medium size pond built right against our house. We discovered after moving in our resident bullfrogs. We loved having them but they sure could make loud noises under our bedroom window. It was fun to watch them from our kitchen window and visitors were fasinated that we had so many. Year before last we noticed the population reduced considerably. Last year we only saw and heard one lonely bullfrog. Wondering what happened to them and what this spring will bring. We will be sad not to have them any longer. I enjoyed reading about your frogboys. Also love your home and gardens and reading your blog.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Becky. They definitely relocate to bigger watery quarters when they feel there isn’t enough food or territory for the growing population…but then back a few come, or at least that has been my ebb and flow story here. They have minds of their own, and decide season to season what the best hunting/swimming grounds are. Hilarious. Love them, noise and all.

  6. Becky says:

    I loved them too! Hoping where ever they are is good for them. I worry because we live in town and I am afraid they got squished crossing the many roads around our house. One of the funny things that happened when we had a male visitor with a deep voice one of the frogs would croak. I wondered if it was a girl frog inviting romance. The same thing would happen when my husband mowed the grass.

    Have you ever seen them stalking a bird? It is almost scary looking! Reminded me of a cat the way they walked with their body close to the ground.

  7. Christine says:

    Likewise, I am infatuated with our resident mob of boisterous frogboys. The first night we slept in this old farmhouse with the windows open (24 years ago) the volume was alarming. Of course the din quickly became become “music to my ears” and I am ecstatic when the cycle resumes each spring. Our pond’s population definitely ebbs and flows, like everything else.

  8. Leslie says:

    Loved reading about your infatuation with bull frogs. I thought I was the only one! So relieved to discover others have experienced the heartache of a fluctuating bull frog population. I thought something was wrong with my pond. Every spring I eagerly await the return of the bull frog serenade. So saddened when it is not as loud due to a dwindling number of frogs. Thank you for educating me.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Leslie, and glad to share the funny story. It has repeated itself in some version each year since. When the ice melted this year out back, just a week or two ago, I saw that two big guys had stayed here with me at least for the season….we’ll see what they do next!

  9. Becky says:

    My Frog Prince has returned! My husband and I were sitting in our bedroom talking yesterday morning and a bull frog chimed into our conversation. That made my day. Now hoping others will join him.

  10. Madeline says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I have written before about our frogs here in central NJ (they inhabit our water garden) and I have learned a lot about them through you. I am writing today because I found one of our lovely frogs dead in our pond. I haven’t examined him out of the pond yet but we were so shocked and dismayed to see him/her at the bottom of the pond in a “spread frog” position, clearly lifeless. We cannot figure out what happened to him/her, s/he seems completely intact…what do you think? We were thinking maybe something attacked him and although he was able to jump back into the water succumbed to his injuries?? We just don’t know…any thoughts or experiences of your own? I am going to scoop him/her out soon and bury him/her. We feel really terrible…what a shocker to see.

  11. Kathlyn den Dulk says:

    We have plenty of frogs, but how do we entice a toad or two in the vegetable garden? I live in the Cascade mountains.

  12. martha says:

    For drama and opera extravaganzas, truly, a well-hosted diverse Frog Villa can rival the Met! One year their vocals, tiny Tree Frogs to Hearty Big Boys, from creek and small lake, echoing around the small valley, oh! They were exquisite and went on for hours–almost like Greek chorus rhythms, crescendos and weavings, very complex. II recorded for several nights–absolutely awesome all by themselves, no mixing required!!! And then, many years ago, I was at a dinner party with several grad students.and one had just returned from his field study of the mating songs of a particular Big Frog population–after months of living in the mud with them he could provide very close approximations of the frogs’ calls. Needless to say, it was a delightful and hilarious evening. Thank you Margaret for sharing your marvelous insights about the diverse talent and beauty of our Frog Friends. Descriptions as marvelous as their performances!

  13. Anne Wagner says:

    Thanks for bringing my attention to Animal Diversity World. What a great resource – though I just lost a chunk of my morning reading about chipmunks (we have lots)! :)
    Always enjoy your site and especially your writing.


  14. Jane Sherrott says:

    I’ve read your frog posts many time- they convey pure happiness fun. we have had very large numbers of a wide range of frogs in our backyard but numbers are way down. The culprit- river otters from we don’t know where. Very cute to see the otters run across the yard and in the pond and ditch, but we miss the loud serenading from the frogs very much.

    1. margaret says:

      Ouch! Here the snakes are the most like predators that I see go after the dear frogs; no otters to be found, thankfully.

  15. Stacey Broyhill says:

    Thank you for this information. My beautiful boy Hector left and we did have a big rain, so maybe that’s it.
    I hope he will come back. I have teeny tiny copes gray tree frogs who live near him. I’m so terrified that he’s going to eat them because I know he would, they’re adorable the size of your fingernail, but I’m still seeing them around the edges of the pond climbing on plants. I have great pics n videos of my guys.

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