Monday, July 30, 2012

My neighbors are frogs and toads...

A well-camouflaged, partially burrowed toad cools off in the sand during a hot summer day

Simply Living
July 30, 2012

For someone who has lived next to lakes and marshland for most of her life, I know remarkably little about fish and frogs.
I see small fish swimming in the shallow water and large fish jumping where the water is deep, but other than being aware of their presence I know little about their specific identities.
The same is true for frogs and toads. I notice the small green frogs that hide in my mailbox and bumpy-backed toads that burrow in the sand beneath the rowboat during daylight hours. But if you asked me which type of frog or toad they were, my answer would at best be a guess. In the evening, I enjoy listening to the cacophony of bellows, croaks and peeps that fill the air though have no idea which song belongs to which critter.
Lately, my bad case of ARD (amphibian-recognition-deficiency) has been particularly acute thanks to the sudden appearance of tiny tadpoles. Quantities of solid black and grey-speckled pollywogs cluster along the sandy-bottomed edges of the lake. Every morning, when I enter the water to take a quick wakeup dip, dozens of wiggly swimmers scurry out of my way. Recently, I've noticed that a few of the grey-speckled variety have begun to grow feet. Not quite fish but not yet land animals, these pea-sized pods of frogs-in-waiting paddle their way through the inch-high water with a swish and a kick.
I'm getting a kick out of watching them develop.
Since realizing how little I know about frogs and toads, I decided to remedy the situation with a little online research. One of the first things I learned is that both frogs and toads belong to the order Anura. Within that group, toads belong to a family called Bufonidae while the frog family goes by the name Ranidae. Since Florida is home to 33 different kinds of frogs and toads, it's not surprising how challenging it can be to identify individual species.
Although they belong to the same zoological order, frogs and toads have many differences. For starters, frogs have smooth, slick skin that feels slimy to the touch while the skin on toads is dry and bumpy. A frog's eyes also bulge out more than toad eyes do and their hind feet are long while a toad's back legs are short and stubby. Those long legs make frogs great jumpers. Toads, with their wide, fat bodies and shorter legs tend to walk more than leap. Those features also make them better adapted to land than their water-loving cousins.

An unidentified frog sits on the proverbial lily pad

Despite their many differences, both toads and frogs begin life in an aquatic setting first as eggs, then as tadpoles. When a female frog is ready to reproduce, she does so by depositing eggs in a jelly-like mass on the water's surface while a toad anchors her eggs in long, double gelatinous strands to plants growing in or along the water edge. The eggs of neither amphibian are fertilized beforehand. It is the male's job to find the eggs after they have been laid and fertilize them in a process known as spawning. It is only after he has completed his task that metamorphosis begins.
The transformation from egg to tadpole to frog or toad takes about 16 weeks to complete although it varies from species to species. Either way, that means I still have plenty of time to learn more about the tail-wagging swimmers that have appeared in my lake.
Nature is a constant source of mystery and wonder. When the tadpoles appeared, I became aware of how little I know about certain species. But I was also reminded of how much I want to learn about the world outside my door. A lack of knowledge is a good thing when it opens the window to continued learning and exploration.
Some nights, when the air resounds with a rhythmic chorus of bellows, croaks and peeps, I hope to open my window and do more than just enjoy the sounds of my surroundings. I want to be able to identify some of my amphibian neighbors. After all, we share a love for both land and water. The least I can do is to learn a few of their names.

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