The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Bullfrogs Can Fool You
by Ro Wauer

I discovered a really odd frog a short time ago while cleaning out a tiny pond in my backyard. It was about the size of a leopard frog, but lacked the large black spots and dorsal stripes. It didn't match any of the frog species - green, gray, and squirrel treefrogs and leopard frog - that I had previously recorded in my yard. Nor was it a toad with warty skin, short legs, vertical pupils, and parotoid glands, a globular feature located just behind each eye. Yard toads have included eastern narrowmouth, Gulf Coast, and Texas toads. I caught my new amphibian, placed it in a jar, and tried to figure out what I had found. But it was not until I sent some digital images off to a couple colleagues that I learned that my new yard frog was little more than a young bullfrog.

In self-defense, both of my colleagues stated that my frog did have a very "weird" pattern, and that young bullfrogs can easily be confused with several other coastal species, although most of those never get to Texas or are much, much smaller. Once my frog had a name, I realized that I should have considered a bullfrog from the start. After all, bullfrogs are fairly common residents throughout all but the desert portion of Texas. And anyone spending much time in swampy areas would quickly recognize an adult bullfrog, and its very distinct "h-h-rrumph" call is unmistakable. But my young bullfrog had not yet begun to sing.

Bullfrogs, actually American bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana), are native to almost all of eastern North America and south to Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec. But they have also been introduced into swampy areas throughout much of North America, as far west as California and north to Canada. And it is likely that their range will continue to expand, as female bullfrogs can deposit huge egg-masses that can contain 20,000 eggs. Although those eggs and resultant tadpoles are subject to considerable predation, at least some of those baby bullfrogs are likely to survive. My bullfrog must have traveled overland as much as several miles to get into my pond. Yet bullfrogs can eat almost anything including other bullfrogs. Being cannibalistic, it is not unusual for a large adult to feed on its smaller companions. And when the adults grow up they also face the possibility of ending up as a human delicacy. Frog legs, fried to a golden brown and garnished with fried parsley and sliced lemon, can be superb!

Bullfrogs are, after all, our largest frogs. They can reach a length of eight inches. Adults can be really heavy. They are overall green with a netlike pattern of gray or brown, although youngsters, I discovered, can be blackish-green with an abundance of tiny darker bumps. Bullfrogs usually have a white belly, mottled legs, and yellowish armpits. And in the water they often rest mostly below the surface with only they're bulging eyes and nostrils above the surface.

My new yard herp, a term often used for amphibians and reptiles, now numbers 29. Besides the five frogs (leopard frog, bullfrog, and green, gray, and squirrel treefrogs) and three toads (Gulf Coast, Texas, and eastern narrowmouth toads), it also includes six lizards - green anole, Texas spiny lizard, six-lined racerunner, ground skink, and Mediterrean and banded geckos. My list also includes 15 species of snakes: broad-banded copperhead, Texas coral snake, rough green snake, Texas rat snake, Mexican and eastern yellowbelly racers, Schott's whipsnake, eastern garter snake, Texas brown snake, prairie kingsnake, eastern hognosed snake, Gulf Coast ribbon snake, flathead snake, rough earthsnake, and plains blind snake.

Now anyone seeing this list would naturally assume that my yard is full of herps that it is next to impossible to walk out into my yard without stepping on snakes, lizard, or amphibians. But that is not the case; most of these creatures only occasionally visit my yard and some of the others, such as the toads and frogs, as well as the geckos, hide out during the daylight hours. Only four of the lizards can be found with any certainty.

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At 5:04 PM, Blogger Cowtown Pattie said...

We have several of the variety of "herps" you described living in our backyard. A month ago we found a large king snake curled up in the barbecue pit. Luckily, we found him before firing 'er up! Popped him into a pillow case and let him loose in the pasture behind us.

At 10:38 PM, Blogger Pancho said...

Glad to find Texas Nature Writers. I've added a link to Burr William's "El Llanero".

At 4:04 PM, Blogger lenĂ© said...

I didn't realize that bullfrogs were cannibalistic. I live in Vermont now but grew up in Texas. I'm very happy to have found this blog. It's fun to read about my other home.


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