Of Amphibia and Men

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Picture of the pond outside of the WCC Hardwoods

It was the third day of our worm field study, and everybody was excited to go to the pond. However, a storm decided to meet us there, one step behind. But it wasn’t the only surprise for that day. No, we were (quite literally) stopped in our tracks by a swarm of small jumping critters. What were they?

When you hear the word “frogs”, what comes to mind? Mucus covered organisms that jump high and far? The creatures that like to sing all through the night, executing harmonious symphonies amongst each other, at the expense of your sleep? Or maybe it brings a picture of a pond or lakeside, covered in weeds, to your mind. Accompanied by multiple frantic splashes of creatures fleeing the scene. Either way, frogs are a pretty common animal, and therefore many people will think of the same thing. However, how does one differentiate a frog from a toad? After all, they are from the same class (Anura).

When my class was outside searching for earthworms, one day, we had the fortune of coming across hordes of newly hatched frogs. Now, I don’t mean the larval stage of a frog, the tadpole; what we saw were tiny brown frogs, maybe just under and inch long, swarming the ground. There were at least four-hundred of them right in front of us, on the path along the outer edge of one of the WCC ponds.  Maybe more, maybe less, frolicking around in the sudden downpour of rain. They were tiny little things, easily crushable under one’s feet, either by accident or purposefulness. Tinier than a penny, but no bigger than a dime. Upon closer inspection it was also noted that these frogs (or, quite possibly, toads) had bumpy skin, and were exquisitely camouflaged to match the variety of browns in their environment, although their underbellies were an almost pale white. Along their backs were three pairs of muddy orange spots, though proportionally small.

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A sketch of what the frog/toad looked like (up close).

It was honestly quite amazing to see so many Anura in one place. Seeing as older frogs are more susceptible to hide in the shallows, among the reeds and muck of a pond; while toads are easily overlooked when sitting still.  It does make you wonder, however, why so many were out at once. Maybe it was the rain that brought them out of the water, providing the well needed moisture that newborns require to live. Or maybe it was a coincidence, the rain coming down in a day’s time to provide the fully metamorphosed tadpoles a chance to surge on to land. I never did figure out what species those little critters were, though I’ll still wonder. I suspect they may be Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens), for the unique spots on their backs. On the other hand they could also very well be Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), or maybe even a simple toad. Yet as the season progresses, figuring out what they were may become more difficult, though not impossible. As the ground starts to heat up and dry, the more likely it is for the amphibians to hide in the coolness of shadows or water. Alas, nevertheless one can only conclude that while so many frogs or toads may have finally made it past the challenges of tadpole-dom, many of them will not make it to full adulthood. Some may be gobbled up by birds. Some may be devoured by snakes. Some were, unfortunately, trampled under our giant feet.

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A frog/toad resting on one of our group member’s hand.

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