This spring, a neighbor who lives about a half mile up my road, contacted me through facebook telling me he had frogs croaking in his yard.
It was a warm and rainy night, and what I discovered when a photographer pal and I walked around to the back of my neighbor’s house, was a chorus of Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) song trilling from a small above ground swimming pool. The pool had been covered for the winter, but the tarp had depressed and filled with spring rains to form a shallow pool in which a half dozen or so males were earnestly calling for females. A rather lonely looking Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) was also perched hopefully nearby, contributing to the performance.
I took some nice photos that night, and enjoyed watching the behaviors of my favorite anuran. One of the frogs was shedding, and I studied its meticulous movements of wiping the surface of its entire body with all four feet, removing its cast-off outer layer of skin, and then eating it!
About a month later, as the humidity and daytime temperatures creeped higher, my neighbor contacted me again to say it was time to remove the tarp and charge the pool with chlorine for some relief for his family in the coming hot summer days. He reported that the shallow water on the surface of the cover was filled with wriggling tadpoles! I begged him to run a bucket through the water before dumping the water out, so that I could save and observe a few. The next day, a 2 gallon pail of murky water was on my porch, containing 13 tiny larval frogs.
You’d think an amphibian obsessed nature nerd like myself would have had plenty of opportunity to witness frog metamorphosis from beginning to end, but this was my first opportunity – mostly because its not lawful in New York state to capture any animal from the wild and hold it in captivity (including frogs). However, I recently obtained a permit to collect and keep amphibians for a short time to observe and photograph, so this was my big chance!
This has been a highlight of my summer. I set up a 20 gallon aquarium on the stone hearth of my living room fireplace. The Internet and the advice of a few knowledgable biologist friends (John Clare’s excellent and comprehensive tip sheet at frogforum.net was particularly helpful!) helped me set up a comfortable nursery for my houseguests, and its been a fascinating thrill to track their progress on their mysterious march toward adulthood.
My six year old daughter has been particularly delighted by this remarkable life process she’s been able to witness up close. When her friends come over to play, she enjoys showing off her knowledge. As the tadpoles’ tails resorbed and they began clinging to the glass sides of the tank (looking for more substantial meals than the algae wafers I raised them on) my daughter ran around the yard with me gathering tiny leafhoppers into a jar to feed them while we waited for wingless fruitflies to arrive from Petco.com.
The entire population has now metamorphosed into an unruly mob of adolescent froglets. I’ll post again later this summer about the ways I’ve adapted their living quarters and tried to arrange for their release into the wild.
The Gray Treefrog is a beautiful and endearing species, part of a complex of related species with taxonomically tricky characteristics. The process of metamorphosis is fun to observe in them because of the variability of markings and colors developed by individuals. They’re entertaining to keep as they’re active and visible in their enclosure, and become comfortable around people fairly easily. My affection for Gray Treefrogs has deepened this summer, along with my anxiety about their future as amphibian populations continue to crash all around the world.