“If we can discover the meaning in the trilling of a frog, perhaps we may understand why it is for us not merely noise but a song of poetry and emotion.” ~Adrian Forsyth
I love frogs. I never really had many encounters until we added a pond to our garden. And since that time I look forward to the frogs and their antics. Every year, we get a different group of frogs who make the pond their home. Some were born in the pond, and others happened by and decided to stay. Some years we might have 10 and one year we counted 40 of all sizes.
Here at Beautiful Wildlife Gardens we talk about the reasons we “critter garden”. For me it is all about the surprises that await me in the wildlife garden. I am never sure what I am going to discover, and it is these chance encounters that are the most fun. We feel honored to observe these majestic critters as they grace us with their presence.
And so it was this past week, when I was gazing at the pond from inside the house. I spied a sight I could not believe. You know you think you see something, but then you convince yourself it couldn’t be. So I grabbed my camera, and went out to investigate what was probably just a plant or a rock.
As I crept slowly toward the pond two eyes appeared to be staring at me from across the pond. It looks like a frog, but not like any normal frog I have seen. The eyes were part of an enormous head that sat on an enormous body. We estimated this huge frog (pictured above) was 8 inches long.
My God…look at him (or her)! If you don’t recognize this big boy, it is an American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus). I know they are as common as ants, but they are a fun frog in the garden, and they sure know how to party all night long in my pond. I couldn’t get over the width of the body. This frog is so wide it is sitting funny. My husband startled it and it jumped quickly sideways and swam like a torpedo.
Bullfrogs are the largest frog in North America, but I think this one is a mutant. They usually average about 4-5 inches in length with females getting as large as 8 inches. So this one must be Big Mama.
Bullfrogs vary in color from brown to green sometimes with dark spots on their backs. Their bellies are usually cream colored, but may be yellow in males during the breeding season. The hind feet are webbed, and sometimes they have dark colored bands or blotches on their hind legs. On the sides of the head are large ear drums that look like circles. These eardrums are how you can tell the male from the females. Males have larger eardrums, which will be bigger than their eyes. Females have smaller eardrums, which will be the same size, or smaller, than their eyes. You can tell a Bullfrog from other frogs by their lack of dorsolateral ridges or the two long lines down the back of most frogs.
Being aquatic creatures they live in or near water such as a lake, pond, stream or marsh. They prefer more still or slow moving waters with lots of plants, but really they can be found practically anywhere. They like to hang on the banks of these bodies of water or amongst the cattails and lily pads (especially in my pond).
They are carnivores, but will eat any animal that fits in their mouth. Bullfrogs are known for ambushing their prey. They seem to like to eat snakes, lizards, insects, crayfish, worms, minnows, small turtles, baby birds, small mammals and other frogs (even Bullfrogs). We had 10 frogs in the pond and we are down to only a few. I think Big Mama came by for dinner.
Bullfrogs are said to be loners and very territorial. I have seen that behavior although when there are many young bullfrogs in the pond they seem to be OK with each other. I have also seen fights over mates with more mature bullfrogs. Bullfrogs breed throughout the spring and summer, sometimes twice a year. In my pond it is constant through the warm weather. So much so we have to yell at them to keep it down out there. Some of us are trying to actually sleep.
They will lay up to 20,000 eggs in thin sheets just below the surface of the water attached to plants although I have seen them lay eggs on top of plant material that is sitting on the surface of the water. Tadpoles take a long time to fully develop and will remain in the water through the winter. The longer they remain a tadpole, the bigger the frog will be. Tadpoles eat algae, underwater plants, and aquatic insects. Bullfrog tadpoles are protected because they taste bad, but I am not sure who finds them distasteful.
Bullfrogs are nocturnal except in my pond. I find them all over the garden during the day hunting for a meal or hanging under plants or in the pond. They hibernate in the winter burying themselves in mud. Bullfrogs have a loud call which can be heard up to a quarter of a mile away. Bullfrogs are said to have many predators, especially when they are young. Snakes, turtles, fish, and birds will eat tadpoles and smaller bullfrogs (turn about is fair play after all). Larger bullfrogs are a delectable delight for Great Blue Herons and other mammals like raccoons. Supposedly, they taste bad to many predators, which gives them some protection (except from other huge bullfrogs like Big Mama).
Keeping an inviting habitat for frogs is easy. A water source with native plant material is essential, and don’t try to keep the pond too clean. They like the leaf litter on the bottom and some algae. These are food, shelter and a place to escape from predators. If you have a chemical free garden, they will be out and about ridding your garden of pesky insects. Of course the heron and snakes that visit the pond will find them irresistible too!
“The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.” ~Native American saying
**The picture at the beginning of the post is Big Mama. The rest are various bullfrogs we find in the pond and garden.
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