By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener has amphibian anxiety. Last week, there were NO frogs in the Wildlife Pond. No croaking, no splashing, no churning. In previous years, frogspawn has arrived in the middle of February. The surface was millpond flat, and so was my mood. What has happened?
At first, I put this dearth of amphibians down to the prolonged, harsh winter. Perhaps the newts and frogs hadn’t ventured out of hibernation. That’s fine, they’ll wake up when the time is right. Then my friend in the next village told me that her little pond has 70 frogs in it, so many that it was overflowing and gelatinous with spawn and several female frogs had been drowned by amorous males. I didn’t want 70: fifteen would be enough, five even, but none? Dismayed, I chewed over several theories: 1. Pollution? The spring that feeds the Wildlife Pond comes down from the local golf course. The roads through the course had been salted during the snowy weather. Could salt have washed down into the pond and polluted it? How would I go about testing the pond water? 2. Predation? There was such a proliferation of dragonfly larvae last year that most tadpoles were eaten or maimed. I know a grass snake lives nearby. And those froglets that made it out may have been gobbled up by the hens. Could the foraging hens also have eaten the bugs, worms and slugs that the frogs rely on? However, those froglets would not yet be mature enough to breed this year, so where were their big cousins? 3. Heron? During the cold snap, a heron crashed through the ice and set up home in the pond. Could it have winkled out frogs hibernating in the leaves at the bottom?
4. Housekeeping? I cleared out all the choking blanketweed last year , cut back the marginal plants and slubbed out some of the leaves. Perhaps the frogs preferred it messy. Yesterday being Saturday, I had the chance to have a good look in the pond. To my relief I saw three common newts swimming about, and I even heard the burping of a single male frog calling for females. Perhaps that rules out pollution. But my relief was short-lived with the grotesque sight of a male frog clinging to the bloated corpse of a female:
She’s not faking it, honestly…
Not exactly the fecund churning of previous years, and not boding well for frogspawn. Today, a warm, spring-tinged day and a little more pond activity ” two more adult frogs, but not attached to each other. The dead female is still embraced by what by now must be a rather puzzled male. When will he give up? When she starts to smell? When she’s a skeleton? At least there is some amphibian activity, but nowhere near the frogfest of previous years. Perhaps the party will kick off next week. I hope so. I love our frogs. I’ll keep you posted.