Monday, September 11, 2017

The Return of a Frog

We hope that the Somme Preserves recover as much of their nature as possible - with our assistance. Years ago I ran across old records that suggested that leopard frogs had lived there. We never see them, although they are a species that tend to be visible - as in summer they leave the ponds for meadows (an alternate name is the "meadow frog"). A leopard frog leaping dramatically away as a you walk through a meadow used to be a familiar experience - for those who walk through meadows.

For my first 20 years at Somme, I never saw a one - and feared they were gone. Each year as our ephemeral ponds dry up, we often check the final little puddles on their last days, to see what has concentrated there. About 15 years ago, in one grassy pond in Somme Prairie Grove, I was amazed to see tadpoles much bigger than the chorus frog and spring peeper tadpoles we usually find. They turned out to be leopard frog tads, which we discovered after we scooped up as many as we could and brought them home in a little of the meager remaining water, in a styrofoam cup that was lying around. We then installed them in an aquarium which we filled with water from another nearby pond. (That pond had water but no tadpoles, as it was in the dark buckthorn woods.) Next day the grassy pond that the tads came from was dry, and all the little frog and salamander larvae we didn't manage to rescue were dead, and not smelling good, sadly.
What is this leopard frog doing in the bottom of a plastic bag?
The answer to this and other mysteries will be revealed below. 
As stewards, we consulted with Forest Preserve staff. Typically, it's not good to mess with frogs. Many amphibians are being wiped out by diseases. Transferring them between ponds is a way to spread the deadly diseases. But in this case, with all the ponds being in one forest preserve, and frogs most likely journeying between them, everyone thought it seemed okay to use that water from the nearby pond. The leopard frogs must have somehow been surviving in very small numbers. Later we learned that one wooded pond across Waukegan Road with some grassy habitat held water long enough for leopard frog tadpoles to mature. One female must have crossed the busy street to try out the grassy pond. We raised the tads and let them go in the meadow by the pond they came from - and never saw a trace of them again.

But when we learned to monitor breeding frogs by their calls, we did, rarely, on some years, hear a leopard frog or two calling from that deeper pond in Somme Woods. There aren't many.

Now, the strange experience of yesterday, September 10, 2017.
I was mowing our lawn, two streets south of Somme Woods.
Our yard tends to have longer and shaggier grass that most houses on our block.
About half of the former lawn is now glorious perennial "gardens" of rare plants cultivated from local seed, to grow more seed, for restoration.

As I mowed, a large leopard frog jumped away from the mower.
This was the first (except for those tadpoles) I'd seen, despite spending great amounts of time at Somme for four decades.
In fall, the frogs return to their ponds. When it's finally cold enough for them to hibernate, they go down into the mud at the bottom and dream until spring.
Dundee Road is a busy street.
I popped the little fellow in a bag to give him a walk home.

It's not easy - to be a person - trying to do right by a frog.
Perhaps I should have left it there?

According to the Wikipedia write up:

"The northern leopard frog is a fairly large species, reaching about 11 cm (4.3 in) in snout-to-vent length. They normally inhabit water bodies with abundant aquatic vegetation. In the summer, they often abandon ponds and move to grassy areas … (They) breed in the spring. Up to 6500 eggs are laid in water, and tadpoles complete development within the breeding pond. Northern leopard frogs are preyed upon by many different animals, such as snakes, raccoons, other frogs, and even humans. They do not produce distasteful skin secretions and rely on speed to evade predation. They eat a wide variety of animals, including crickets, flies, worms, and smaller frogs. Using their large mouths, they can even swallow birds and garter snakes. In one case, a bat was recorded as prey of this frog."

Okay, that's weird.

I carried it back to one of the grassy areas that have been improving as habitat over the years at Somme Woods - near the pond where we occasionally hear leopard frogs in spring. I put the bag down and opened it so the little survivor could jump away.

Often, when given their freedom, animals of many kinds are dubious about making their move.
This one sat for minutes, as I waited, more or less patiently, happy about about finally making its acquaintance. 
After a while, it walked a few inches outside the bag, and then, again, sat tight.

When it finally made its jump, it moved so fast the my eye could barely follow.
I had put my camera on "video" - and this shot and the next are stills from that video.

This is how much an iPhone captures of a jumping leopard frog.
Good for you, frog!

And this is the last and happiest photo of all.
The frog is now near its pond and possibly thinking about more tadpoles next spring. 

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