In Lenape – Tsquall – Frog, Tsqualli Gischuch – Time When the Frogs Begin to Croak (Wake Up & Sing). This refers to our local “Spring Peepers” that start to sign in the vernal pools around late February – March.
How to tell frogs and toads apart. Frogs have smooth, moist skin; they can hop and jump. Toads are plump and broad, their skin is bumpy and NO they can not give anyone warts! With their shorter hind legs they can only hop, toads can also live in drier places but frogs need a moist environment. As the amphibians (from the Greek word which means to have a double life) grow their skin splits down the back and they shed it and they eat it. They are always in danger of being a meal for a raccoon, crane or other shore or wading birds, skunks, turtles, larger fish and people.
They can hop away, play dead, or blend in with their environment. Toads have a special self defense. When frightened or injured the toad can secret a milky poison they is irritating some kinds of toads are poisonous enough to kill a dog! They can also puff themselves up and look much larger and fiercer than they are.
Frogs “drink water” by sitting in wet or moist places and absorbing it through the skin. Their long sticky tongues and snap out a catch a wide variety of insects for its supper, they also love earthworms and minnows.
In the winter they hibernate, snugly underground or in hollow trees. Before the massive developments the wet marshy areas and ponds would be filled with the sound of the “Spring Peepers”, tree frogs so tiny (the size of a penny) it is hard to believe that they can keep you awake at night with their sounds!
We are all a part of the “Circle of Life” we stand on it and move within it from before our birth through the many steps we take in growing to our death and beyond. What we do effects us and others, not just the two legged ones like us but plants, animals, birds, fish, amphibians even earthworms! Not to mention the air, water and land. As many species on our “Mother Earth” are becoming extinct we must look around for we too are a part of the circle.
Lichen may appear to be a colored parch on a moist part of the rock, but to the scientists, it is an “indicator species.” As an indicator species, it warns them of the extent that acid rain has invaded our ecosystem. Rising or declining amounts of algae in a stream or krill in the ocean show the health of our waters.
Amphibians – frogs, toads and salamanders are also good indicators, too good! They are telling us that we are all in trouble! Worldwide. Within the past two years there has been a dramatic worldwide amphibian decline and no one really knows why.
A deadly silent omen, of human wrought environmental damage, lakes, ponds, and streams that once ran with the songs of frogs have fallen into a silence. This is more than the loss of a child’s science project, it means a boom in swarms of mosquitoes than were once kept in check by the amphibian appetites. The insect repellents will not stop these “stinging things of summer” for very long and the chemicals can have a disastrous effect on us as well as the environment!
There are many theories as to why amphibians are becoming extinct, but no one answer. They are a “silent sign of our damage to the environment”, David Wake, a biologist at University of California (Berkeley) who led an emergency National Research Council conference on this subject. While many of these friends are gone because of the destruction of their wetland homes – logging, human development. There are other possibilities – acid rain and snow, pesticides, drought and imported exotic species of other critters. But the rapid decline of them from protected parks throughout America alone make Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” seem all too near. What affects them will sooner or later effect us. The National Parks survey shows an alarming extinction rate. As the winter snows melt and small ponds brim with runoff, the amphibians emerge from their sleep in rotten logs and soggy burrows. These “Harbingers of Spring” voice loving croaks to attract a mate. The females lay hundred of eggs in still ponds and the males cover them with a milky sperm. Salamander females fertilize their eggs internally, after gathering male sperm from the bottom of the ponds. They all attach the eggs to submerged rocks, plants or logs.
Broods of frogs, toads, and salamanders develop in two distinct stages from long strands of eggs or jellylike egg masses the size of a softball. Young, gilled tadpoles, also called polliwogs, which emerge from the egg masses must stay in the water until they mature into adults, when they can also survive on the land.
The adult amphibians have the unique ability to breathe through their moist skin, so that they can absorb oxygen either above or below the water. On land, they use human like lungs. Because these special devices allow them to live in two environments, they are also vulnerable to each! Their permeable skin can easily absorb toxins from both the air and the water. These toxins are then passed on through the “food chain” to eagles, herons, raccoons and others that eat frogs. They are subjected as tadpoles and adults to a broad spectrum of problems. They are a part of the environmental fabric and indicated environmental change they are like the “Miners Canary” that would die due to the invisible, deadly fumes of the coal mine and save the miners.
They slowly disappeared in the 1970’s but few research people were interested. Frogs were so common that no one bothered to keep records on them, now they are looking to records decades old! Until the first world herpetology congress in England last year everyone thought it was only “their local problem”. The spotted owl is in better shape than the amphibians of the Northwest coast area. Heavy fishing and recreation pressure are also responsible. Placing fish in lakes that were not there to start with is another danger, they love the eggs and tadpoles.
Another growing danger is the hole in the ozone layer; the eggs can be ruined by the ultraviolet light. The acid rain and snow can be deadly to some frogs and kill the eggs. Even a slight increase in this acid rain can cause this, or if they survive the emerging tadpoles are deformed. It can even keep them from maturing on time and the summer heat dries out their ponds before they can hop safely away. Since they fertilize in open water the sperm can be killed instantly.
How bad is it? Well in Calaveras County, California made famous by Mark Twain’s tale of jumping frogs, the native frogs are gone! They were eaten by people or imported east coast bullfrogs or killed by toxic mining waste! Bruce Bury of the U.S. Wildlife Service said …”it could be something bigger than we realize”.
After 75 million years, they cannot survive “man”; can man survive “man”? Toads and frogs represent one of the earliest forms of life on land. Will they join the 15% of the world’s animals expected to be extinct in the next 30 years? Extinct is forever! For more information check your local library or use a search engine.
*I originally wrote this article in the early 1990’s, things are MUCH worse now in 2013. National Geographic, other institutions and zoos had special programs in 2008 on the disappearance of the frogs. Carla J. S. Messinger