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Frogs and toads

  • A bullfrog uses its raised eyes and nostrils to its advantage. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
    A bullfrog uses its raised eyes and nostrils to its advantage. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
  • An eastern American toad can be seen in the grass.
    An eastern American toad can be seen in the grass.
  • A Pickerel frog is smaller than a bullfrog.
    A Pickerel frog is smaller than a bullfrog.
Published July 14. 2017 09:35PM

Pennsylvania is home to frogs, toads and tree frogs. In total eight species are found locally. I will focus on two of the frogs and the eastern American toad.

The bullfrogis heard as often as seen. It reaches 6 inches and may weigh nearly 1½ pounds.

Bullfrogs may be harvested for the delicacy, frog legs. (note, all amphibians are regulated by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission) Being so large enables them to feed on larger prey items. They can eat crayfish, large insects, other frogs, and even small snakes and birds.

Bullfrogs rely on permanent aquatic habitats such as lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams. They require more warmth than other amphibians, and unlike a wood frog emerging from hibernation on frosty March days, the bullfrog may not emerge until late May.

Bullfrogs are very territorial and solitary. Their signature deep croaking, usually heard at dark, attracts mates. This deep "croak" can be heard from across a lake. Excellent swimmers, they need to regularly surface though to breathe and see. As most frogs, they have raised nostrils and eyes allowing them "James Bond like" to pop up to the surface while keeping most of their body submerged.

Bullfrogs mate when the water warms, with females laying more than 20,000 eggs which are fertilized externally.

A few days later, tadpoles emerge and begin feeding on plants in the water. A tadpole metamorphoses into a bullfrog by its second year.

Elementary science classes probably introduced you to the tadpole's transformations of: gills being replaced by lungs, the eyes moving to the top of the head, legs slowly emerging and the tail reabsorbed into the body.

With so many tadpoles hatching, one would expect a bullfrog to be sitting every foot along the shore. However, nature apparently puts thousands of tadpoles "out there" to offer food to fish, crayfish, raccoons, herons and water snakes.

The pickerel frogis much smaller, and unlike the bullfrog, less dependent on permanent aquatic habitats.

After becoming an adult, the pickerel frog often moves quite a distance from its larval home. I have found them at least a half-mile from the nearest water source. However, they do need to remain moist and often are nestled in thick grasses or the damp forest understory.

They reach about 3 inches and jump much better than the bigger bullfrog. Their diet is restricted to smaller prey but will eat almost anything they can handle.

It is preyed upon by the same animals as the bullfrog tadpole, but in particular, snakes. Pickerel frogs are common and I find them near ponds and often when mowing a thick, grassy field. Their mottled pattern allows them to excel in protective coloration.

The eastern American toad is the most terrestrial of the three.Toads have adapted well to live away from water and unlike frogs, have a drier appearing skin. In fact, their most identifying characteristic is the bumpy, warty skin. Their "warts" do not give you skin warts like commonly thought. But those skin glands do secrete a toxic substance which causes quite an irritation to a predator's mouth.

You may have observed your dog's facial contortions after licking a toad. Most active at night to avoid the drying sun, you may observe one hopping across your patio in search of bugs. They are common even in towns. Unfortunately, another limiting factor is they tend to be very active on rainy evenings and the "hop toad" isn't very quick crossing streets.

Take a moment from your busy schedule, find a nice grove of white pines, and "hunker down" on that bed of needles and just watch and listen.

Answer to last week's nature question: The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird that breeds east of the Mississippi River. The southwestern U.S. is the place to visit to see a variety of hummingbirds.

Test your knowledge: Which of the three species in this article lays its eggs in long, jellylike strings underwater? A. bullfrog, B. pickerel frog, C. eastern American toad.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

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