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March of the batrachians (PG-13)

A frog is just an egg’s way of making another egg…

 

So many signs indicate the onset of spring: mechanical events like the vernal equinox, human inventions like tax day or a school vacation, mutable natural rhythms that follow the particularity of each unique pass around the sun. Of these, some are triggered by a certain accumulation of degree of atmospheric or subterranean warmth; by the summing of so many hours of direct sunlight or of days with so many hours of sunlight. Germinations and sproutings, emergence from hibernation and wandering to new grounds, nest-making and egg-laying. And some have a much simpler threshold: at least hereabouts, the first night after Lupercalia when Farrar Pond is ice-free, the ground is moist and the air above 45°F, frogs go on the move. If it be warmer and raining, the moon full, so much the better. But hardy explorers seem to venture forth pretty much as soon as they are able, and are immediately audible (and, in the morning, visible) in a nearby isolated pool.

Artifact or natural, frogs breed by preference in small waters lacking a steady connection with larger. Else, fish and other aquatic predators move in and eat eggs, tadpoles and frogs. So a garden pond that overflows onto the ground, rather than into a stream, is ideal. Here is one, as it appeared on March 21st—the first full day of spring:

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These inches of snow soon vanished, leaving a thin crust of ice and exposing the net that kept blowing leaves from choking the pond:

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By March 28, all ice had melted, allowing the net and its burden to be rolled easily off its railings

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and parked for next winter. That very night, despite cool temperatures and dry ground, the first explorers made their way up from Farrar Pond to this breeding site. Known to some returnees or found by random hop?

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In ones and twos, they floated around for the fun to begin while keeping a hemispherical eye out for local edibles:

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Melt-off also revealed a small tragedy, of a type unprecedented here:

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at least one dead frog and dozens of pale tadpoles. The pond being too deep to freeze entirely, they might have been caught cold-stunned and frozen just beneath the surface. Or perhaps anoxia (it is a very small pond, and rubber-lined) or some disease or parasite. Whatever the cause, one may hope that it does not recur.

These ghosts’ warning was not enough to prevent further losses when the pond again skimmed over one clear night, and not everyone made it home before the door clinked shut:

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(There might have been many more losses; avian and mammalian scavengers work quickly.) Then it warmed and rained. By April 1st, at least 28 frogs were visibly active:

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That’s just a little patch, and it all looked like that. The word lek describes both a kind of frantic collective activity prior to mating, and also the location in which it occurs. In such a a small pond, it’s nothing but lek coast-to-coast.

Eventually, mysterious and sometimes inappropriate approaches are made

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and connections achieved:

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But even in a mid-spring day’s dream, the course of true love rarely does run smooth

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as other players try to horn in on the amplexus,

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in some cases coming more than close:

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That particular pair shook off interlopers, navigated under a rock shelf provided for the purpose, and completed their assignation in protected darkness. To no end, alas, as he was a wood frog (Rana sylvatica) and she a green (R. clamitans), and these miscegenation laws are largely ineluctable. Romeo and Juliet after all?

The happy result of better-starred liaisons, taking advantage of last-year’s lily and lotus stems for stabilization just below the surface:

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The  need for such anchoring is one of many reasons reasons why too-fastidious cleanup does not make for an optimal ecology.

At this point, last year’s bullfrog tadpoles would normally be attacking the rich new food source, leaving just a few survivors, but they were frozen out of the feast.

With sunlight plus nutrients from those decaying leaves, algae quickly colonize the gel, consuming embryonic waste and providing extra oxygen

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while the little ones (here, in another egg mass nearby) develop quickly in the sun’s warmth:

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Their mission accomplished, adult participants relax, sun-bathe, and await the arrival of succulent insects:

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