By Wendy Wallace
“In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” wrote Alfred Tennyson in 1835, and it remains as true today on Bainbridge for local amphibians. Learn all about it at IslandWood’s popular community event, Amorous Amphibians, which teaches the tantalizing topic, the ins and outs if you will, of how island frogs get their leap on.
The two-hour evening combines an engaging indoor presentation with an exploration at the property’s Cattail Marsh. After a lively discussion, adults and kids (over 6) hike out to the wetlands and listen quietly for exuberant frog mating calls.
Once IslandWood observers—dare we say voyeurs—settle down, the croaking starts up, usually across the pond, getting increasingly louder and closer like a wave. What do they overhear? Likely it’s the Pacific Tree Frog, which is small in stature at 2 inches long but loud in volume.
Just a few frogs sound like dozens. “It can be a deafening chorus,” said IslandWood community education coordinator Christina Doherty, who both designed and presents the program. If your knowledge of frog love ends with Kermit and Miss Piggy, here’s a primer: the male’s sole purpose for croaking is female attention.
With a 5-to-1 male-to-female ratio, only the loudest, most robust guys get the girl. When she hops over, he hugs her green slipperiness in an embrace called amplexus. His toe pads swell during mating season to assist in this maneuver. After a few moments or possibly hours, she releases eggs into the water and he fertilizes them, leaving a jelly like mass on the pond surface. Tiny at first, eggs absorb water and swell over time.
After about 14 days, the next generation of tadpoles emerges. On spring mornings, egg masses can be seen in water throughout the region. Two-time Amorous Amphibians attendee, Hilary Benson and her family always leave entertained, educated and inspired.
“From the educational presentation to the night hike, searching for frog eggs and other creatures, it’s a great way to connect with our island ecosystem in a fun, family-friendly way.” Her son Eli, 8, enjoyed night hiking with flashlights.
“I also got to hold real eggs and a salamander,” he said, “and that’s pretty cool.” Islander Bonnie Fraik attended with her daughter, Amelia, 13, and “heard different calls at the scene of the crime!” she said. “It was way more interesting than learning about birds and bees.”
Frog enthusiasts can also join Frog Watch USA, a free citizen science program that encourages the public to take inventory of local frog activity and upload their findings. Anyone within acoustic range of frog vocalization can record data that helps inform amphibian conservation.
If you’re curious, get a simple kit to test water quality to get a read on aquatic ecosystem health. “Chemistry, temperature and habitat have everything to do with reproductive success,” Doherty said. Since frogs don’t guard them, fertilized eggs are on their own, susceptible to hazards and predators.
She added that islanders can easily help create excellent hiding spots for amphibians by leaving rocks, sticks and natural debris at any water’s edge. Scientists know that amphibian biodiversity is an excellent indicator of overall environmental health.
With a dual life cycle in water as tadpoles and terrestrially as adults frogs are affected two fold by pollutants. Because they breathe through their skin, subtle environmental toxins greatly impact their well-being. In other words, we want to hear a loud, springtime chorus of croaks.
Sadly, Bainbridge has likely already lost one species of frog, the Western Toad. Recorded in 1933 at IslandWood’s Mac’s Pond, it has not been recorded since. No one knows why for sure, but many suspect habitat disconnect from development. The island’s natural marine border makes influx of replacement amphibians from elsewhere impossible.
By encouraging local residents to take steps to care for our resources, IslandWood aims for future thriving generations of frogs and many other species in a healthy ecosystem. Maybe Kermit was right after all. It’s not easy being green. Amorous Amphibians takes place April 8 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 per person and registration can be found online at islandwood.org.