There are many signs of spring. The first time that I get up at 6.30 a.m.to catch a train to Dorset and it’s not pitch dark. The first time that I notice the snowdrops in the garden. The increased urgency in the song of the blackbird, the way that the blue tits and robins seem to have paired up. The lambs in the fields, and the slight softness of the air. The way that my husband has started to need his hayfever medication. But for me, early spring only starts with the sound of a plop in the pond, and the first small heads gathering at the shallow, stony end. It’s not until the first frog croaks that spring is truly on its way.
You can hear it most clearly in the evening, when the other sounds have died down. The frogs suck air into their bodies, so that they swell up, and then let the air out. Each species has a different call. In the tropics, the song of the frogs can be almost deafening, and the ‘spring peepers’ of North America don’t do a bad job either. The common frogs in my garden are a little more discrete, almost as if they feel embarrassed to be making such a fuss. But as the females are attracted to the loudest and longest ‘croaks’ they soon get over their hesitation.
The males acquire a greyish-blue tinge during the mating season, and also develop handsome white throats, which help to emphasise their appearance when calling. They also develop ‘nuptial pads’ on their ‘hands’ which help them to grip the females. When I took the photographs, there only appeared to be one female in the pond, but the huge quantity of frogspawn that has appeared since makes me think that there have been other visitors.
The male frogs tend to hibernate in the mud at the bottom of the pond, so that they can be on the spot when the females (slightly larger and allegedly browner/redder in colour at this time of year) appear. The females are more inclined to hibernate away from the pond, and seeing the way the males behave when one makes an appearance makes me think that they are absolutely right. A lone female can be absolutely mobbed by eager males, who are in a frenzy of lust. I have been watching the frogs from my upstairs window as they clamber over the heaps of frogspawn and attempt to attach themselves to anything that moves. One male frog even entered the water riding piggyback on a female, but he was soon booted off by a bigger, tougher frog. The male frogs take two years to reach breeding age, so every year counts.
Last year, the death toll was staggering in my pond. There was a heap of dead frogs under the hedge on several mornings, whether fished out by a cat, or taken as a stash for a fox, or even plucked out by a crow or magpie, I have no idea. This year, fortunately, I have not seen any casualties so far – I decided not to cut back the dead waterplants around the pond until spring, so maybe this has given them a bit more cover. Anyway, I am keeping my fingers crossed that this happy situation continues.
The fresh-laid frogspawn is always delightfully turgid, as if it’s going to burst at any moment, and I love seeing the tiny tadpoles already developing in the jelly. The outer layer of the spawn gradually breaks down, so that the tadpoles are released into the water after about two weeks. In the meantime, it’s fortunate that almost no warm-blooded predators like a snack of frogspawn, although there are videos of cats tucking in on the internets, and I have known of ducks who would visit a pond once a year to tuck into the eggs.
I have one rather idiosyncratic frog in the pond at the moment. One of his eyes is cloudy, and I’m sure that he’s blind on that side. It doesn’t seem to bother him as he croaks away as part of the froggy chorus, but I suspect it will make him more vulnerable to predators. I just hope that he manages to breed – I always have a soft-spot for the underfrog.
It’s no wonder that frogs have long been symbols of fertility. The ancient Egyptians had a frog goddess called Heqat, and I can well imagine that the annual flooding of the Nile brought a great chorus of frogs, signalling another year of good harvests.
The Chinese frog spirit Ch’ing-Wa Sheng is associated with good luck and prosperity in business, but many cultures also have proverbs about frogs such as ‘sitting in the well, looking to the sky’, which means a person who knows little of the world and has a very limited outlook. I much prefer the delightfully characterful Japanese frog in the illustration below, who looks as if he has had too many worms for dinner.
The presence of frogs signals the great rush to breed that is taking place all around us at this time of year. We tend to think that spring kicks off in April, but by then many animals will already have bred. We humans are a little on the sleepy side with regard to what’s going on around us, but frogs have a limited window to get on with passing on their genes – they are cold-blooded, and the tadpoles need the water to be warm for them to mature, something that can take a good few months in these unpredictable times. In fact, when I reared some tadpoles in a tank a few years ago, they matured a good month earlier than the ones in the much colder waters of their natal pond. So I wish my frogs success in their breeding, avoidance of predators and disease, and a warm summer. The world would be a much sadder place without the annual frog chorus.
Photo One (Heqat the Frog Goddess) – By Daderot – Daderot, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23403227
All other blog content copyright Vivienne Palmer. Free to use and share non-commercially, but please attribute and link back to the blog, thank you.