The Month of Froguary

February 22, 2012 § 23 Comments

I’ve been in full voyeuristic mode recently: peeping out of an upstairs window with binoculars, and then, when the moment is right, rushing out the door. My camera is raised in the shooting position as I barrel down the steps and I’m firing it off rapidly, papparazzi-style. But, mostly I’m drawing a blank. Or, if I’m lucky, getting something like this:

Just sittin'

Which is nice, because it’s always cheering to see photos of frogs lolling around, nonchalantly taking the air. Or, I might get something like this, which is also nice, because it’s arty and amusing, and it gives you a warm feeling about this particular character:

'Ere wot you lookin' at?

What I’m really after, though, is a good, juicy photo of frogs mating. But that’s not easy. Although there are at least two dozen amphibians making whoopee in our tiny garden pond, they are desperately shy. Oh, I can see them bashing away and the pond rippling like a bubbling cauldron when I’m at a safe distance. But as soon as I get within a few paces, there is a split second of furious detangling and rapidly churning water. And then, they’re all gone. Except for a few innocent heads poking out of the water.

Frogs are impossible to sneak up on. Their bulging eyes give them near all-round vision. And our pond is not the most secure place. While crouching behind the Bergenia ‘Wintermärchen’ and hoping to get a better photo, I am assailed by an eye-stinging pong of fox urine. Our neighbourhood foxes, I imagine, are partial to the occasional frog dinner, and have been patrolling the garden more than usual.

What I saw through the Bergenia

So, I decide to leave them in peace and to sit a while where they can’t see me, and I can’t see them, but I can listen to their fluty croaking. Actually, the sound they make is far more melodic than a croak. It’s more a soothing, sonorous purr.

For me, watching the frogs may be entertaining and thrilling, but every year, after trying yet again to get photos of them in flagrante, I have to remind myself that this annual mating spree is a crucial part of their lives. Each female Rana temporaria produces around two thousand eggs, and she may mate with many males (often several at a time) in a process called amplexus. But only a few of her blobby eggs will reach adult froghood, three years down the line. Along the way, most of the tadpoles will be eaten by other water dwellers, or even each other (a gruesome sight to behold when you’re idly gazing into the depths of the pond). And baby froglets — no bigger than a pea with legs — perish if they can’t quickly reach a nearby cool and leafy sanctuary when they first venture out of the water.

So, I’m hanging up my frog-shooting camera until next year, when I’ll probably try again. My best bit of spawnography yet was taken two springs ago. Here it is, an uncommonly busy bundle of common frogs.

"If you could just move your flipper over there a bit..."

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§ 23 Responses to The Month of Froguary

  • Rowan says:

    Amplexus! Beautiful word! That last picture, your best-so-far, is absolutely amazing. ‘My’ frogs haven’t surfaced yet but i bet it’s only a matter of days; the temperatures are forecast to be in the late teens here in the Midlands by Friday. I shall be out papping in the garden too.

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  • Call me an old romantic but I much prefer the lovely pic of coy courting veiled by bergenia to the gruesome full frontal of your final ‘money shot’. Spawnography made me laugh… Funny frog lady.

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  • Ms B says:

    Husband, when clearing something out of pond during mating season, removed his hand from the water with male frog tightly clamped onto it. Sad or deperate!

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  • You’ve made me have my first stab of annual frogspawn envy there, Jane. How long have they been around in your pond? None visible yet here in Durham, though should only be a matter of days, I hope. I keep scanning the surface for any evidence, but so far only the pondweed breaking the surface has given any – false – hope of the little globules I can’t wait for. By the way, how soon after mating does the female lay the spawn (phraseology?) Agree: especially like the what-the-butler-saw angle.

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  • James A-S says:

    Filth.
    You should be ashamed.
    “Oh yes” she says ” I am photographing them for scientific reasons”
    Oh yeah?
    It is just exploitative herpetological porno smut.
    And you know it.

    Like

  • Do you have newts? Ours stay nice and still for the camera even when in flagrante delicto. The bergenia is my favourite shot! On first read I thought you’d actually be sprayed in the eye by the fox himself and not the pong…tho I’m not sure that’d be much worse.

    Lovely pictures!

    Like

  • Maraeka says:

    That’s fascinating-and full of good pictures! I’ve always loved watching frogs, although I’ve never seen them mating until your pictures 🙂 Something about these creatures makes me feel good about life, excellent post!

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  • denham says:

    Oh Jane, this blog brought such a smile to my face. Thank you for brightening up a wet, murky Dublin day.

    Like

  • Stephen Butler says:

    Nothing here yet, but my pond is on the north side of house so warms a bit later. Plenty of lads eyeing up the talent, fair play to ’em to feel anything other than frigid in that water…………..

    We really have to get out more……………………

    What is the record number of males amorously clasped around what they can only hope is a female in the middle??

    Like

  • karengimson says:

    This has brought happy – and sad memories for me. My grandfather used to visit me every Sunday and loved inspecting the veg plot, greenhouse and pond. We would stand side by side peering into the pond for the first signs of spring. Such happy times, when so simple a thing as spotting a frog would make us cheer. In the last few months of his life, my grandfather was too poorly to go outdoors. So I filled jam jars with tadpoles and brought them inside.
    He loved nature and the countryside, and I still feel as if he is beside me when I am gardening.

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  • Jane Powers says:

    Karen, thanks for this lovely comment. It made me happy and sad too.

    Like

  • Justin Fawsitt says:

    Amphibious article, “tasteful” photos and appreciative replies: the internet at its froggiest.

    Like

  • C. Cotton says:

    Jane, while your “uncommonly busy bundle” photo is still champion for capturing “the act”, these new photos are really just as good, and serve excellently at fleshing out the entire scene. On another note, do you have a lens long enough to capture them from a distance? Finally, Karen G., that’s a lovely and touching story. Good for you, for filling those jam jars.

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  • Jane Powers says:

    I do have a long enough lens, but the view to the pond is not clear, so sneaking up is essential, alas.

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  • Arabella Sock says:

    You have just evoked the most marvellous childhood memory where a deep stream ran down through some water meadows to the beach and was always filled with hundreds of mating frogs in the Spring. I wonder now if I was old enough to realise they were mating or whether I thought they just carried each other around like that. Can’t believe now how easily we took all that for granted when now I am excited to find one or two turn up in my pondlet.

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  • marysolnerja@eircom.net says:

    My pond is quite established but I have never seen frogspawn, it is a bit smelly now do frogs mind dirty ponds.

    Mary

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  • How amazing to have them right where you can snap them so beautifully! You have the most fantastic patience, well worth it though, I love these photos!

    Like

  • Annie S says:

    Spawnography! Brilliant! Great post, great photos. Thanks Jane!

    Like

  • […] again — glorious, tumbling bundles of fornicating frogs. I left them to their work, undisturbed by my camera. After the difficult start to the year, they deserved some privacy and […]

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