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Thursday, Aug 28, 2014
South Shore News

Frogs can be fascinating


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Frogs can also be very helpful in the garden – or not.

Did you know that there are 2,700 kinds of frogs worldwide, 82 in the United States and 28 in Florida? That tadpoles can stay tadpoles from a month to a year and some frogs can live for decades? That there are good frogs and bag frogs?

Thankfully there are no poisonous frogs in Florida. But the marine toad, which can be 9 inches long, produces toxins that can be lethal to pets and can make people seriously ill.

Toads are different in that they have dry, bumpy skin, while frogs have moist, smooth skin. Frogs have long hind legs with webbed feet; toads have short hind legs with no webbing. Frogs lay eggs in clusters while toad eggs are found in long strands or chains.

Frogs are to the watershed and other ecosystems what canaries were to coal miners. Because they live both on the land and in the water, they’re very vulnerable to changes in their habitat. Their permeable skin absorbs not only oxygen but many chemical pollutants.

Frogs eat insects and tadpoles help keep my rain barrels clean and free from mosquito larvae. That is mostly a good thing, but some of the insects they eat may be our primary pollinators. I have noticed fewer dragonflies and damselflies this year and many more frogs.

Still I’m tickled when the frogs plop on the window beside my chair at night. Sometimes five of them are on the window at once, attracted by the light and the insects.

But in the middle of the night when one is trying to sleep, they are noisy – very noisy. So noisy that I wonder if some have not come inside, and a few times, they have. To catch a frog in the house, get a large rag, cover it quickly, scoop it up and shake the rag out the door.

If you’re having trouble sleeping through the racket, try ear plugs. Also turn out all outdoor lights. Lights attract insects and the frogs come to the feast. If you still have trouble sleeping, try a light as far as possible from your house and hope the frogs will go there for the night.

I knew and celebrated the twilight serenade of the spring peepers from my years at college in Pennsylvania. There are spring peepers in North Florida, but the oak toad here has a similar but quieter peep.

Other frog noises include the 8-inch, large bullfrog that sounds like a bullhorn or an elephant. We heard that only one year and at first we thought it was our fire alarm. The 6-inch pig frog with a greenish back sounds remarkably like a pig, and the southern leopard frog sounds like a squeaky balloon or someone gargling.

The gopher frog song is like a man snoring or a creaky floor. Barking tree frogs sound like dogs barking in the distance. The little squirrel frog quacks like a duck, and the grass frog – the smallest of all at less than an inch – sounds like a cricket. Several years ago I went to an Audubon Frog Listening evening, and it was great fun.

There is much more to learn about frogs. Just google away.

Today’s pick is the croton Petra with oval leaves of many colors. Most crotons like shade, but this one thrives in light shade to full sun. It grows slowly to about 3-feet tall and is colorful year round. It can live for 15 to 20 years. I have several that have survived for almost that long.

The ones in the ground are very easy. The ones in pots sometimes wilt a bit when they’re thirsty. The more sun they endure, the more often they need water. Petras can be started from seeds or cuttings, which root best from now until August.

Now is the time...to tell you that supposedly, cats and dogs will scare the frogs out of your yard, but we have three outdoor cats and still have a boatload of frogs and plenty of birds.

Because the Cuban tree frog is eating many kinds of our native frogs, the extension office encourages us to catch them in a plastic bag, close it tight and put them in the freezer overnight to die peacefully. The next day you can throw it on the compost pile. But do that only if you are sure of the identity. Figuring that most of my tadpoles are of that species, I don’t feel too bad when I dip into the rain barrels and get a few tadpoles in the water. I think of it as fish emulsion, good for the plants.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at monicabrandies@yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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