The Nature Writers of Texas

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

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Golden Crescent Frogs and Toads
by Ro Wauer

The recent article in the Victoria Advocate about the plight of frogs and toads, especially the Houston toad that occurs just out of our area in the Bastrop area, prompted me to think again about which of these amphibians are common in our area. I already have seen a few tadpoles in my dragonfly pond, so I know that, at least on warmer days, frogs already are active. These cold-blooded creatures stay hidden out of the weather during the colder winter months, but become active just as soon as daily temperatures reach into the 60s and 70s.

Leopard frogs are our most common frog. They are what almost everyone visualizes when thinking of frogs. Most individuals are one to three inches in length when squatting but may be twice as long with their legs extended. Some of the largest can be 12 inches or more and those individuals are big enough to offer a delicious meal of frog legs. Leopard frogs are wonderful jumpers; some can jump three feet or more. The typical leopard frog can easily be identified by the leopard pattern of black blotches on a green background and a pair of whitish stripes that run down its back. Its legs are usually brown with black blotches with lighter borders.

Leopard frogs prefer wetlands, including permanent and semipermanent pools, as well as flooded roadside ditches, where females lay masses of eggs. These egg masses, which may include 1,000 eggs, are laid in shallow water. The female is usually enticed to the site and persuaded to mate by a singing male. His love song is a series of guttural croaks and clucks, like the sound produced by rubbing a finger across an inflated balloon. And breeding can occur at any time of year, so long as hot and humid temperatures prevail.

Leopard frogs are members of the family Ranidae, or true frogs. This group includes 13 species, all of the genus Rana. Bullfrogs are probably the best known of these. Bullfrogs, usually measure six to eight inches in length as adults. They are smooth with a greenish back, tan belly, and powerful hind legs. These larger frogs are preferred for a dinner of frog legs. Their mating call is a booming “jug-o-rum” that can be jarring to the human ear. Females lay clusters of as many as 20,000 eggs and attach them to underwater vegetation.

Frogs begin life as a tadpole, a tiny, tailed, fishlike creature that lives underwater. It breathes with gills and rasping on plants with a beaklike mouth. It gradually transforms into an adult by a process known as metamorphosis. The change is first noticed when the tadpole develops a pair of hind legs, then forelegs, and the tail disappears. Lungs gradually replace gills, and the tadpole resembles an adult and begins to invade the land.

Toads belong to a separate family (Bufonidae) and can easily be identified by their dry, warty skin, compared to the moist, relatively smooth skin of frogs. Most toads also possess a cranial crest (ridge on the head) and parotid glands, the round or oblong knobs located just behind or below the eyes. Frogs never have these features. And what’s more, one cannot get warts from touching toads. However, secretions from the skin glands of both toads and frogs can be irritating to mucous membranes. Some folks are more allergic than others. So whenever touching these amphibians, be sure to wash your hands afterward. Until you do, keep your fingers away from your eyes and mouth.

All of these creatures are part of our natural environment. And we have learned in recent years that they are extremely susceptible to human induced pollutants. Populations of frogs and toads serve as our indicators of a clean environment. Appreciate them in their native habitats. We all are residents of the same planet.


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