Category Archives: London Amphibians

They’re Back…..

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.

By Daderot - Daderot, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23403227

Statue of Heqat, the Frog Goddess, from pre-Dynastic Egypt (approximately 2950 BCE) (Photo One – Credit Below)

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.

Frog and Mouse by Getsuju, a Japanese artist of the Edo period (Public Domain)

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 Credit

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bugwoman’s Third Annual Report

IMG_5397Dear Readers, what a year it’s been! It started in February 2016 with a rather disappointing revisit to the Abraham Cruzvillegas installation at Tate Modern, which contained soil from different sites in London, and was supposed to provide an idea of the diverse flora from the capital. Sadly, it was rather underlit, and none of the raised beds were labelled, so it was impossible to know where each sample of soil had come from. Plus it finished in February, just before everything started to come into flower! A most frustrating exercise which could have been both artistically and scientifically interesting. Harrumph!  It did provide an excuse for a bracing walk along the Thames, however.

IMG_5528March was all about frogs and this poor little fox, half eaten up with mange. It was the start of my daily walk to St Pancras and Islington Cemetery, where I dropped medicated food to try and clear up the fox’s skin problem. As a result I met a group of people dedicated to looking after the cat population in the cemetery, and the other animals too, especially my friend B. To my surprise, the homeopathic medication sent from the National Fox Welfare Society worked, and I gained many glimpses of the foxy population.

The fox with mange

The fox with mange

The first frogs of the year

The first frog of the year

Fox at sunset

Fox at sunset

By April there was some improvement in the original fox, and she had a mate. Plus, from looking at her underside, it seemed that she had cubs, though I didn’t see them while they were very small.

The vixen (looking a bit better I think)

The vixen (looking a bit better I think)

IMG_6107

The dog fox waiting for his dinner

The dog fox waiting for his dinner

Yet another fox

Yet another fox

On the Wednesday Weed front, I found some honesty

IMG_5987and some fritillaries.

IMG_6003May brought comfrey and lady’s smock, and a few more foxes

IMG_6578

Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis)

Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis)

IMG_6244

The vixen and the dog fox earlier this week

The vixen and the dog fox – the vixen definitely looks as if she’s feeding cubs

And by June, I think this is the first sight of a cub. Plus, we had fledgling long-tailed tits, and a rather surprising creature spotted while on the New River Walk in Islington

IMG_7158IMG_6662 IMG_6639IMG_6793In July, I was off to Austria for our annual two weeks in the Alps. Where it snowed.

IMG_7258Though not all the time, fortunately….

IMG_7221August saw my first visit to Woodberry Wetlands and a trip back to my roots in the East End, to see what had happened to Stratford since the Olympic Games. I was impressed with the wildlife that I saw in both places.  And the fox cubs were out and about in the cemetery.

Woodberry Wetlands

Woodberry Wetlands

IMG_7598

Heron and Mute Swan at Woodberry Wetlands

Young goldfinch at the Olympic Park

Young goldfinch at the Olympic Park

Kestrel at the Olympic Park

Kestrel at the Olympic Park

Another young fox

Another young fox in the cemetery

September saw my first ever pied flycatcher, during a visit to see my parents in Milborne St Andrew, Dorset.

img_8010I had never seen so many rose hips as there were in the cemetery, either.

img_7989And the horse chestnuts reminded me of my Auntie Mary. How often the fruits of the season jog my memory, putting me in mind of people and places long gone.

img_7954And the foxes were still about, of course.

Dog Fox

Dog Fox

October brought a trip to Venice with an 89 year-old friend of mine, and a particularly wonderful encounter with a young vixen in the cemetery.

img_8087img_8066img_8314img_8247In November, I discovered the joys of a slow shutter-speed on my camera, and had an encounter with a grey wagtail at the Barbican Centre.

img_8613-2 img_8615-2

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

December brought a return to Milborne St Andrew, some very fine Islington cats, and a supermoon. It also introduced me to the hidden meaning of having pampas grass in your front garden.

Ice on a Dorset stream

Ice on a Dorset stream

A very fine Islington cat

A very fine Islington cat

Supermoon!

Supermoon!

Supermoon apparently tangled in branches

Supermoon apparently tangled in branches

Pampas grass

Pampas grass

And finally, January has brought a stroll along the Mutton Brook in East Finchley, stinging nettles and a Very Fine Cat Indeed.

The Mutton Brook

The Mutton Brook

Stinging nettles with small 'friend'

Stinging nettles with small ‘friend’

Bailey, the world's most magnificent cat.

Bailey, the world’s most magnificent cat.

So, dear Readers, what an exciting year it’s been! If there are things that you’ve liked particularly, do let me know (and yes I will be spending more time in the cemetery on fox watch in the months to come). I am also open to suggestions if I have missed your favourite ‘weed’, or if there is somewhere in London that you’d like me to take an excursion to.  In the meantime, thank you so much for your support, and I look forward to your company in 2017. The world is an uncomfortable place for many people at the moment (including me) and there is much solace to be gained in the plants and animals that surround us.

All blog content copyright Vivienne Palmer. Free to use and share non-commercially, but please attribute and link back to the blog, thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Change in Bugwoman’s Garden

IMG_5621

The whitebeam tree, pre-trim. The squirrel drey in the top right was uninhabited.

Dear Readers, every five years I have some work done in the garden that fills me with trepidation. My whitebeam and hawthorn trees are very beautiful, but are also a bit big for a smallish suburban garden, and so I ask the tree surgeons to come in and give them a good trim. I know it sounds strange, but I feel guilty about it every time, and always apologise to the trees in advance, and try to explain what’s going to happen. I know that both trees will take a while to recover, and that the birds will be confused about where their favourite perching places have gone. But, nonetheless, if I want to preserve good neighbourly relationships, and also to get maximum light to the (north-facing) garden, it has to be done, and early in the year before anything has really started to grow.

So, the tree surgeon Michael, and his sidekick Scott, arrived, and Michael spent the next six hours in the whitebeam. In the pouring rain. He is something of an artist, taking a drawing of the tree before he starts, and preserving its character and shape as he goes (something that some of the guys employed by the council could do well to learn, though I have no doubt that those poor souls are up against a ferocious timetable). And this is the result.

IMG_5669Not pretty at the moment, I know, but all the fundamental features of the tree are still there. And he’s even left me some branches to hang the bird feeders on, which is very important. The chaffinches and collared doves and robins were very upset at their absence, but I think they’re happy again now.

IMG_5660

The robin has just learned how to use the bird feeder!

IMG_5654

Male Chaffinch

IMG_5653

Dunnock

By the time Michael went home, he was absolutely dripping wet. I do hope he doesn’t come down with some evil disease as a result.

And in the evening, an annual event occurred. As the drizzle continued, a little army of heads popped up in the pond. It was as if they’d been waiting for the temperature to go up a few degrees.

There had been a few males around for several weeks, but no frogspawn. And yet, when I got up, all this had been laid in one night.

IMG_5650The frogs seem to like the shallow end of the pond, and once one female has laid her eggs, everyone else tries to lay theirs on top. At first, each egg seems pumped full of fluid, fit to burst, but over time the eggs seem to lose their rigidity and become softer, eventually releasing the tadpoles into the pond.

IMG_5656I had never noticed frogs’ eyes before. I love the almond shape and the golden iris.

IMG_5664IMG_5665There is something so benign about that gaze, so utterly harmless.

IMG_5663And yet, something has killed one frog per night ever since they started to breed. I find their little corpses, hands together as if in prayer, their white bellies exposed. They seem to have one tiny bite behind the head. Usually, they aren’t eaten, but today I found one that had been partly dismembered. It could be a cat, a fox, or even a crow (though I suspect that they scavenge the dead ones rather than hunt the live ones). But still, there are probably a hundred frogs in the pond at the height of the season, all so intent on breeding that everything else is an afterthought. No wonder their croaking and squirming and skirmishing attracts the attention of predators. It would be strange if it didn’t.

And, while this is not a cat blog, or a dog blog, I do have to share two photos with you this week. One is of my cat, Willow, who is under the impression that she is a panther.

IMG_5643And the other is of a dog that I met in Coldfall Wood. This little one might be a ‘toy dog’ but he has the heart and spirit of a Newfoundland. I salute you, sir! He was undaunted by the sudden increase in depth and volume of the Everglades pond, and was determined to go swimming. His owner told me that he often tries to stalk the ducks, who can see him coming a mile off and fly just when he comes within sniffing distance. I only hope that his owner had a fine collection of towels. This was one very wet dog.

IMG_5613 IMG_5612

The Liminal Frog

IMG_1588

Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) in amplexus

Frogs are mysterious creatures, neither land-living nor water-dwelling, but a bit of each. For a long time we didn’t know exactly what they were. In 1694, in France, it was described as ‘an insect that commonly lives in marshes’. Until the late nineteenth century, they were classified as reptiles, and it was only fairly recently that they were grouped as amphibians – animals which need water in which to breed, but which may live on dry land for the rest of the time. Frogs are certainly associated with damp conditions, which they need to prevent their skins from drying out, but they can be found quite a distance from water once the breeding season is over.

All through the winter, the male frogs have been hibernating, either in piles of deadwood, or under my wooden raised path, or in the sediment at the bottom of the pond. Then, one morning, I’ll look out of my bedroom window to see a cat sitting next to the water, taut with attention, and I’ll know that spring is coming, and the first frogs have woken up.

IMG_1210The male frogs emerge first, and wait around for the females to show. These are more likely to hibernate outside the pond – very sensibly because, as we’ll see, once they’re in the water they’ll be extremely popular.

The male frogs develop special bulges on their thumbs called ‘nuptial pads’. These help to hang onto the female during mating, and seem to have some kind of modified mucous gland inside, although there is no evidence that I’m aware of that they actually ‘stick’ to the females. No, grabbing and hanging on to a female (called ‘amplexus’) seems to be down to brute force and perseverance.

 

A splendid illustration of a nuptial pad, courtesy of Christian Fischer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A splendid illustration of a nuptial pad on an Edible Frog (Pelophylax esculentus), courtesy of Christian Fischer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The male frogs sing to attract a female, and on a warmish spring night I can hear the little calls while I’m washing up. Once a female has arrived, it’s every frog for himself. Usually, a relaxed relationship seems to develop. The female carries the male everywhere, and gets on with her day to day business. She is often full of spawn, but it might take her weeks to decide where, and when, to lay her eggs. As soon as she does so, the male frog releases his sperm, and the spawn is fertilised.

Two relaxed frogs waiting for a happy event.

Two relaxed frogs waiting for a happy event.Note how plump the female is! Hopefully it will be any day now.

Sometimes, however, things go wrong.

Oh dear.

Oh dear.

This froggy sandwich has been going on for several days, and none of the participants seem very happy. Look at that tangle of limbs! My heart goes out to the frog in the middle.  I have rarely seen so much pushing and shoving outside of a Northern Line tube train at rush hour. Frog hands are shoved under frog chins, legs kick and the whole group goes round and round in circles. I managed to capture one such attempt at resolving the situation. If you turn your sound up, you will even hear them singing.

There is much about frogs which is decidedly human in appearance. Their long, muscular legs and elegant fingers have something of the supermodel about them, whilst their big eyes and down-turned mouths always look a little disappointed to me, as if life has not turned out at all as they expected. And for many frogs, dissected in school labs, used in experiments or thrown, legless into a bucket after their limbs have been harvested for cuisses de grenouille, this would be a reasonable conclusion to come to. But for millions of other frogs, living out their lives in the relative peace of back gardens, lakes and ponds across the country, spring is a glad season, full of sex and excitement. It’s followed by a chance to retreat back into the undergrowth and do nothing more strenuous than munch on slugs and flies for the rest of the year. Happy is the garden with resident frogs, chilly-skinned, golden-eyed, and unchanged for 200 million years.

By Bernie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Bernie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Much of today’s information came from ‘Frog’ by Charlotte Sleigh, one of the wonderful Reaktion series on the cultural history of different species. Highly recommended!

Bugwoman’s First Annual Report

IMG_1194Dear Readers,

A year ago today, I created my first ever blog post for Bugwoman’s Adventures in London. At that time, I had no idea what I was doing, except that I had a passion for my local wildlife, and wanted to write about it, so I set myself the task of investigating the creatures that lived within a half-mile of my North London house. I wondered if anyone else was interested in the overlooked, under-reported animals that inhabit our gardens, our streets and sometimes even our houses.

Indoor Woodlouse 002

Woodlouse galloping over the duvet

In a world where the creatures and plants that live with us have so often been pushed to the margins, it was a relief to see that they are not going quietly. Once I started to pay attention (and of course I had to, because I needed something to write about), I found animals everywhere. There were foxes, frogs and snails in the back garden.

The Gardener's Friend

The Gardener’s Friend

Cropped Fox

A very confident fox hoovering up the suet pellets from the bird table

There were mistle thrushes on the local playing fields, and crows, parrots and woodpeckers in the tiny remnant of local wood around the corner.

IMG_1085

Ring-necked parakeet setting up house

Crows 16

Crow bathing in Coldfall Wood

Jays stole the peanuts that I’d intended for the tits, and finches ate a 25kg bag of sunflower seeds every month.

IMG_0777

Goldfinches

There were damselflies and butterflies, Spanish slugs and froghoppers, early bees and leafcutter bees.

Red Admiral Cropped 2

Red Admiral on Ivy

Elecampane blog 6

Leaf Cutter bee on Elecampane in the garden

To begin with, I concentrated on writing, but soon I discovered that I wanted to photograph the creatures that I saw, to put together word and image. I grew to love sharing the sounds of nature with the people who read the blog, and even experimented with video. It fulfilled a deep need in me, but also seemed strangely familiar. And then I remembered why.

When I ten years old, I was in charge of the nature table at school. Do schools even have nature tables these days, I wonder? It was always full of bits and pieces that the children had found, acorns and feathers, seashells and stones, even, in pride of place, a shrew’s skull. But this wasn’t enough. I created a weekly nature magazine, eight pages every week, full of competitions and animal stories and accounts of creatures spotted. The other children read it mainly, I think, for the bars of chocolate that I bought with my pocket money to offer as prizes, but for me it was a chance to share what I had discovered with anyone who would listen.

“Look”, I wanted to say. “Isn’t that extraordinary?”

IMG_0924

The trunk of the Totteridge Yew, over 2000 years old and still going strong

It isn’t enough for me to know something, or to have seen something. I need to share it, to help other people to see it, to hear about what’s going on in their gardens or parks. I want to be told stories too, and so often that’s what I get. A fox or a robin or a magpie shared, sometimes across continents, knits a community that does see, does care. Mine is not the only heart to leap at the sight of a heron, or at the sound of the first frog-song from the pond.

Heron Blog 22

But the real revelation for me this year has been the Wednesday Weed.

Yarrow

Yarrow

I started off knowing very little about the plants that grow in my neighbourhood – there were maybe a dozen that I could identify by sight. So, when I started writing about them, I thought that it would be a short-lived phenomenon. But instead, I realised that I was falling in love with the diverse, often scruffy, always overlooked plants that were everywhere around me. Like Londoners, they came from every corner of the world. Like Londoners, many of them were scratching out a living in the poorest of habitats, but surviving nonetheless. And like people everywhere, each species had its legends, its history and its place in the fabric of things. I loved unearthing the strange and wonderful stories of Herb Robert and White Deadnettle, of Groundsel and Yarrow, of Feverfew and Cuckoopint. It made me humble to realise how little I knew that would have been second nature to my recent ancestors. It reinforced my sense that so many people are alienated from the world around them, including myself. But it filled me with a kind of joy that it was so very easy to find out about the plants, to start to know them.

White Dead-nettle (Lamium album)

White Dead-nettle (Lamium album)

Trailing Bellflower

Trailing Bellflower

Pineapple Weed

Pineapple Weed

There is still something of the Ancient Mariner about me as I grab passers-by to encourage them to look at some bird or plant that I’ve found. An unfortunate young man got out of a council van outside a derelict house last week, only to have me inform him that the patch of Annual Mercury in the front garden had both male and female flowers, and, look, this is how you told them apart.

“Cool”, he said, in a way that made me think that perhaps he was either very slightly interested in what I’d told him, or very polite.

Annual Mercury (Male)

Annual Mercury (Male)

The mood of the media is unrelentingly negative. I don’t have to watch it for long before I feel my anger and grief turning to helplessness and depression. What, after all, can ‘ordinary’ people do? Fortunately,  ‘ordinary’ people are not ordinary at all. ‘Ordinary’ people get off their backsides and save the local woods that they love. ‘Ordinary’ people put up bird feeders, grow plants for pollinators, protest, sign petitions, fight for their communities. Only today, a report showed that urban gardens provide a haven for bees and other pollinators, and have more species than farmland. An indictment of farmland, to be sure, but how heartening for anyone with a garden or a window box or space for a container, no matter how small! Writing the blog has shown me how many people, all over the world, are noticing, caring and acting. Let’s not be downhearted, dark as things often seem. A lot of people, doing small things, can change everything.

Tadpoles Emerging

Tadpoles emerging 002As if they all received the signal at the same time, the tadpoles in my pond are emerging from the frogspawn. The surface of the water is a-wriggle with tiny tails as they try to break free from the confiness of the jelly that’s held them for the past few weeks.

The membrane that surrounds each egg allows the water from the pond to pass through it – this means that the embryos develop at the same rate, and will all hatch at the same time. There is safety in numbers for such little creatures, who at this stage can be eaten by anything from dragonfly larvae to diving beetles to water boatmen. It also helps to prevent cannibalism, which tadpoles are not averse to once they develop legs and become carnivorous.

In the film, you can see that there are some water snails hanging about – these have probably helped by cleaning any algae that started to grow on the frogspawn. In the bottom right-hand corner, though, there is a pond-skater – although it can’t eat a whole tadpole, it is quite capable of puncturing one and injuring it. Life is hard for frogs, right from the start.

Good luck, tadpoles. Out of all of this seething mass, one in a thousand will return next year to breed. The rest will sustain a whole generation of dragonflies and other aquatic insects. Nature is abundant, but rarely wasteful.

Goings On in the Pond

Male frog waiting for the females to arrive

Male frog waiting for the females to arrive

A week ago, as I headed out to the shed, I heard the smallest of croaks coming from the pond. Just a single ‘ribbit’ and then silence. But that little sound was as much a harbinger of spring as all the crocuses erupting into flower. For it meant that the frogs were waking up.

At first, the males appear. They are smaller than the females, and have spent all winter in the silt at the bottom of the pond. They can breathe through their skin if they are not very active, but as the days lengthen and the temperature increases, they need to come to the surface to breathe. The second sign of spring is the increased interest that the local cats show in the pond. All winter they’ve ignored it, but now they can sit and stare at it for hours. Jarvis is a newcomer: a very fine cat and (fortunately) not one to get his paws wet if he can help it.

Jarvis waiting to play Whack a Frog

Jarvis pretending that he isn’t interested in the frogs. Not at all.

The males are hyped-up. Their hormones start to change in the autumn, so that they are ready for action the instant the weather gets warm enough. While they are waiting, they sing to attract the females, and sometimes attempt to mate with other males. The males make a very particular grunting noise if propositioned in this way, the frog equivalent of ‘try that again and I’ll wallop you’. Once the female has laid her eggs, she will make exactly the same sound if a male tries to grab her again.

Male frog hanging around

Male frog hanging around

Eventually the females turn up – in my garden, females arrived within a day of the males’ serenade. They seem to be able to find their way back to their natal pond by smell, as the combination of the particular plants that grow there seems to be unique for each water body. Once the females arrive, there is a thrashing, roiling orgy of froggy copulation. The males hang on to the females, clasping their front feet together under her armpits in a grasp called ‘amplexus’. This can last for anything from a few hours to several days. Even capturing the frogs for a quick attempt at a picture is not enough to put them off their stride.

Two frogs in amplexus, refusing to be separated even when the paparazzi arrive

Two frogs in amplexus, refusing to be separated even when the paparazzi arrive

The purpose of all of this is so that when the female lays her eggs, the male can fertilize them right away, without any other male getting a chance to do the same. Female frogs are very swollen prior to egg-laying, and look a little saggy afterwards, and no wonder – the mass of eggs being ejected is enormous for such a small animal.

Frogs mating at the edge of a mass of frogspawn

Frogs mating at the edge of a mass of frogspawn

In my pond, the frogs have chosen to lay all of their eggs in the shallow end, where the water barely covers the pebbles. The sun warms the eggs, and hastens the development of the tadpoles inside. Each clump of frogspawn represents one mating, and can contain between a thousand and four thousand eggs.

Frogspawn so far

Frogspawn so far

Frogs are invaluable for the garden. Up to twenty-five percent of their diet is snails and slugs, with caterpillars, gnats, and other insects making up the rest. However, the garden is not always good for frogs. Research shows that they are extremely vulnerable to pesticides, which they both ingest by eating affected insects, and absorb through their skins, which are delicate and porous. Not only are they directly poisoned by these substances, but they also affect the immune system, making the frog more prone to fungal diseases and parasites. It seems ironic that our use of artificial pesticides is killing one of the creatures most able to help the gardener.

The Gardener's Friend

The Gardener’s Friend