life in a (former) one-frog town
“There wasn’t one proper Big Night,” he said one morning last week at poolside over breakfast—mine the over-medium with goat cheddar on buttered whole-grain toast; his something indistinguishable but still wriggling when swallowed.
Big Nights are those thrilling first rainy nights when winter lets go, when the temperature reaches at least 40°F and the ground is thawed, a trigger for certain amphibians to emerge en masse from their wintering sites in search of breeding grounds. Like temporary vernal pools—or my backyard water gardens.
“In fact,” I said, always the stickler for detail, “we did have one, but it came when it was probably still too chilly for your liking.” It was the night after the snow finally melted in April—before it simply stopped raining completely for three weeks.
One wet 40-degree-plus night all spring, and barely that–a real hardship for our amphibian friends. Wood frogs, the cold-hardiest of frogs (above, in the mating embrace called amplexus) and spotted salamanders (below) might have found it good traveling weather, but not you, my friend.
THAT EVENING, I heard the rain while I was watching “The Wire” (yes, the whole thing, over again, all these years later). And then, punctuating the rain’s rhythm: the voice of a peeper—the first in about a month here in the yard with its two little artificial garden pools, where in a normal spring, when there is regular rain, I always have a couple singing nightly.
Would my green-frog friend have company by morning, I wondered for a moment, then went back to grittier matters involving not amphibian mating rituals, but sawed-off shotguns, in matchups between Omar and the Barksdale crew.
Boy or girl, though? Who had arrived? To be sure, I’d have to see her tympanum, the ear drum-like structures frogs hear with, or the color of her chest. (Read how to tell what sex a frog is.)
I knelt, slid my hand gently beneath her, and lifted her from the water.
A girl—and so full of eggs, she filled my palm with her girth.
For more than a week they cohabitated, but no signs of a hookup, or even that they took much notice of each other. (Above–and see how much larger the female is, which is not uncommon.) And then it finally rained again the other night.
In the morning, no female frog to be found, but in her wake: a glistening glob of spawn (below).
Let there be tadpoles?
why vernal pools?
EVER WONDER why amphibians would seek out a temporary water feature like a vernal pool to mate and reproduce in? The answer should be obvious—but wasn’t to me. I guess I’d never thought it through. Temporary seasonal water bodies are not a place where fish can live. And what do fish eat? Well, amphibian eggs (and in some cases tadpoles and adults), among other things. Apparently the survival instinct to find a fishless mating ground is just one more stunning example of the genius of nature.