I was out walking after a night of torrential rain and some of the roads were like temporary streams. As I splashed along I came across some frog spawn by the edge of the road. The heavy rain must have washed it out and it was now in danger from passing traffic and the emerging sun. I carefully scooped it up in my hands and found a nice spot in a nearby field stream and at least these frogs will have a good chance of reaching adulthood.
This was the first time this year that I had come across frog spawn but on January 17th, I got a call from a good friend who had found some when he was out walking in the woods. With the recent occurrence of very mild winters the reports of frog spawn are getting earlier. At least they will be safe from aquatic predators but the low temperatures will mean that developing into full grown frogs will take a lot longer.
The Common frog (Rana Tempararis) is one of three amphibians found in Ireland. The other two are the Newt and the Natterjack toad. They are fully protected by the European habitat directive and the Irish wildlife act. You now need a special licence to gather frog spawn and this reflects a historic decline in their population. Although if you come across some spawn in a shrinking puddle I think placing in in another pond will keep within the spirit of the law.
The word amphibian means two lives and this reflects the life of the frog. They usually emerge from hibernation in February and the males make their way to traditional breeding sites. They commence a chorus of croaks in the hope of attracting a female. Like many calls in the Irish countryside this is one that is fast disappearing. Mating in not very romantic as the male just grabs any passing female.
The female lays up to 2.000 eggs enclosed in a jelly like spawn. This has a horrible taste and predators avoid eating it. Tadpoles emerge during April/May and attached themselves to grass or water plants. At first they have gills like fish but after around five weeks these are replaced by fully functioning lungs. They head to the surface for their first every mouthful of fresh air. Adult frogs can breathe through their skin while they are underwater.
Only around 5% will survive and these will leave the pond during July and August. They are eaten by the larva of dragonfly and also fish. This is why they are often found in road puddles in forestry. While there is a greater risk of their home drying out this is offset by the lack of predators. Also the smaller volume of water will heat up quicker allowing the tadpoles to develop faster. Nature’s version of Russian roulette that can doesn’t always work out.
Frogs have good hearing and large bulging eyes at the top of their heads. This allows them to come up to the surface of the water and scan for predators without revealing too much of their bodies. Frogs skin can become darker to match their environment and they have four fingers and five toes and these are webbed. This makes them excellent swimmers. They can easily jump a few meters and if you have ever held a frog in your hand you would realize that Olympic qualification is easily within their grasp. Compared to Toads they have smooth skin, long legs and they hop. Toads are full of warts, there legs are shorter and they walk along the ground.
Colour can vary from pale green to dark brown and the patterns on their skin provides excellent camouflage from predators. They are cold blooded creatures and this means that their body temperature is the same as the surrounding water or air.
Diet consists of insects, worms and slugs and any creature that helps control the population of our slimy friends is welcome in my garden.
Fossils of frogs stretch back for over 140 million years showing how successful their design has been. In modern times they face many threats from the drainage of wetlands, pollution, peat extraction and disease. We can all help by creating a small pond in our garden or part of the tidy town’s awards. Leave areas of long grass for adult frogs and piles of leaves or stumps as hibernating sites.
Adult frogs also have many natural predators from otters, rats, herons and other water birds. For such well-loved creatures there life is indeed hard.
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