Life-changing Frogs

Common frog

Animal lover!  We have so often heard this phrase.  When I was a small child I was described as an animal lover.  I’m not sure the creatures saw it that way.  From ants to hedgehogs, hamsters to hens I searched them out, held them, fed them was bitten by them, watched them & in the case of ants, occasionally buried them, just to see what they would do.  All fascinating stuff.

Common brown frog or European grass frog (Rana temporaria) in a stream with young offspring.

My journey with Amphibians began with my attempts to dig a pond in my parents’ vegetable patch.  The word amphibian comes from the Greek word meaning, “a being with a double life” and includes frogs, toads and newts.  How fantastic is that!  Mum wasn’t very happy with my chosen location in the veg patch so enlisted the help of my dad & big brother to dig out a pond on a new site.  Frogs don’t need a large pond.  Make sure it has a shallow area (the birds will love bathing in this too) or if the sides are steep, exit points along the edge, such as a ramp of sticks or stones, that can allow the emerging babies to climb out successfully.  Aquatic plants will give them places to hide in the water & in the case of toads somewhere to wind their necklace of eggs around.  Reeds, bullrushes or flag iris are great for this.  Frog spawn by comparison is laid in one big gelatinous pile.  Once lined and filled all my pond needed was creatures to go in it.

My daughter holds a small newly arrived male toad.
Toads arriving to mate at the end of February.

Armed with a bucket my mum and I drove to the house of someone in Bradford-on-Avon.  She’d had a tip off from a friend that they had too many frogs.  Before reaching the house we saw them already paired up, hopping along the pavement towards their destination, the poor female struggling under the weight of the smaller male, gripped tightly to her like an oversized back-pack.  She had been chosen & he wasn’t about to let her go!  We were definitely in the right place.  Frogs will return to the same location to breed year after year if the conditions are good.  On arrival a lady showed us to a rectangular pond heaving with mature frogs.  She assured me I could take as many as I liked.

Frog or Toad?

What struck me first about the new froggy treasure in my bucket was the variety of different colours & patterns on their smooth skin.  Some very dark brown & striped, others almost yellow with spots.  If you’re not sure if your frog is a frog but may in fact be a toad, have a look at its legs.

The pile of small stones at the back of our pond were a happy accident. The tiny frogs & toads loved to hide & hunt there.

If it hops away from you & has long muscular legs then it’s a frog.  If it stays still when disturbed or crawls off on its short legs then it’s a toad.  Toads have rough, warty skin & tend to have fewer makings on their body than their froggy friends.  I feel like you could have a nice chat with a toad they’re not in any hurry & have a no nonsense calmness about them.  They also spend less time in the water than frogs only returning to breed.

Benefits for the gardener

Allowing amphibians to make your garden their home has benefits.  They love eating the pests we hate, such as grubs & slugs & flies.  Once my brother (some readers may find this disturbing) pulled the wings off a poor unsuspecting blue bottle in order to it feed to a rather large toad that I had rescued from a drain.  He placed the fly strategically on top of its head.  The fly crawled over the toad’s eye and quick as a flash a long pink tongue swiped the insect into its wide mouth.  All the while the toad stayed completely motionless.  We were both delighted & amazed!  The flies, not so much.

My neighbours recently constructed pond full of hiding places & exit points. Built in September, it already has frogs queuing up to make it home.

The frogs in my bucket were very pleased with their new home & quickly got busy producing large clumps of spawn.  After around 3 weeks the tadpoles emerged from their clear jelly & began to feed & grow.  About 8 weeks later tiny but perfectly formed frogs left the pond to make their own way in the world.  Initially I could find them easily, hiding under stones or in the wet grass close to the pond, usually in the evening, until they gradually dispersed around the garden.  Even now their great grandchildren come back to my parents’ pond to breed and it has since acquired newts & toads without any help from me.  To this day a key feature of my own garden is our big square pond full of amphibian delights that I share with my children & occasionally the Wild About Bath team.

Perfect starter homes for these tiny frogs & toads. These pictures were taken from my own pond here in Combe Down,  July 2021.

By Laura Sheppard

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