THE OTHER NIGHT a newt ambled in after supper as if to join us for dessert. That morning, a pair of garter snakes had poked their heads up, periscope-style, from a stone wall. And nonstop frogpond madness: seven rambunctious male green frogs are fighting over one poor female. All are signs of a healthy garden where no chemicals are used, but also signal to me how important it is to make room for change in life: to shed a little skin, perhaps, or to try a change of venue every now and again (as do amphibians, which means “both lives”–in their case, land and water). Some photos of my provocative little friends.
The red eft in my hands is the terrestrial youth stage of the Eastern newt, specifically the red-spotted subspecies (so not simply Notophthalmus viridescens, but Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens), which started its life in water as an aquatic larvae, not unlike a tadpole. She (he?) will spend the next two or three years or so wandering about up here with us earth-dwellers, before reaching sexual maturity and returning to the water to breed. Three adults that I can see are in the smaller of my backyard pools, presumably doing just that. I sometimes see adults (sort of khaki color but retaining those red spots surrounded by black rings) out of the water. Apparently they are able to make the shift again if their pool dries up and they need to relocate, for instance, I have read.
The lesson: Be versatile!
I’m not crazy about snakes, but in the years since I moved upstate fulltime I have gotten much better about them—or at least the non-venomous varieties (still not thrilled to spy an Eastern timber rattler!). It was my friend Erica Berger, who took the top photo of the red eft, who told me to use my longest lens to spy on snakes—to get closer without really getting close, as she had early in her photojournalism career when arriving at the scene of an unpleasant assignment like an accident or natural disaster. The longer lens is intimate but also safe, and using it (and my binoculars) I’ve become somewhat desensitized to garter and milk snakes, at least. No more shrieking!
And so I laughed when not one but two snakeheads popped up in unison the other morning (up periscope!), and immediately noticed the one in the foreground looked duller, paler and had a cloudy, almost-blue eye—a sign that he’s getting ready to shed. Why hold on to what’s no longer serving you well, right?
What’s going on in the bigger of the two water gardens is something like an amphibian Plato’s Retreat. We seem to have an almost all-male cast, though, this year: seven sexually mature males fighting one another for mating rights with one female who barely pokes her snout out of the water.
That’s not synchronized swimming practice, above, but a watery chokehold; below, the latest victim tries to get away, but no…
…(below that) another chokehold, this one combined with an out-of-the-water jump.
All of these rude, oversexed, violent guys started life as an egg, and then a tadpole, of course, before shedding their tails and venturing up onto the ground. Even more so than the newts, the species called green frog (Rana clamitans) is versatile as an adult, happy around the garden and in the pools, too. Now if only they could have slightly better manners…
If you were a solitary female frog in my backyard world of seven belching, horny frogboys who were fighting over you, you’d hide in a little nest in the grass, too, like this girl, and hope it all just goes away.