On Sunday, Dan and I took Raven and went up the road a little ways to a plot of crown land. There are a few such pieces, owned by the government and open to public recreation, but we only just recently found out about them, when Dan was doing background research for his new Frontenac Bird Studies program (incidentally now starting to gear up). Dan intends to install some his monitoring programs on these crown land parcels, and on Sunday the outing was dual purpose: to burn some puppy energy, and to scout the land a bit further for suitable spots.
As we neared the back boundary of the crown land we passed a pond from which I could hear frogs croaking. Dan offered to take Raven and carry on to the end, and then come back to get me on his way back. In the meantime, I’d scout the pond and see if I might be lucky enough to spot a couple of the noise-makers. Sounded good to me, I really wanted to check out some of the spring amphibians, but last thing I needed was a water-loving dog splashing around and disturbing everything. If I was by myself I might have her sit-stay, which she’s pretty good with as long as you don’t go far or keep her sitting long, but really this arrangement was better for everyone.
I followed the croaks to the back of the pond where it didn’t take long to spot a disturbance in the water. Drawing closer, it appeared to be a female with suitors. Drawing closer still, there appeared to be four love-struck males surrounding her.
The one that was swimming around the bunch buggered off when I got up next to them, but the other three had fought hard for their respective positions and weren’t about to relenquish them that quickly. That poor female could barely move, and I was started to wonder if it was possible for amorous male frogs to choked a female to death. Her strange red colour seemed odd, too. I was pretty sure that these were Wood Frogs, even though they didn’t show the typical dark masks the species usually does; I couldn’t come up with any other species might even be possibilities. But the reddish was a colour I hadn’t ever seen among Wood Frogs, so I wondered if maybe there was a species I didn’t know of around here. Or maybe it was just all the blood rushing to her head.
They were close enough to the shore that I could scoop them up with one hand, which I did just to make sure that the female really was still alive – she was. The third male took off when I disturbed them, but the other two still hung tight. Male frogs grip the females in a position called amplexus – Latin for “embrace”, even though is seems more like chokehold. Typically, if there’s just one male involved, Wood Frogs (and other “true” frogs, tree frogs, and Bufo toads) grasp the female from behind around her armpits. Obviously these boys had skipped that sex ed class.
The embrace can be iron-strong, seemingly locked in place, and if a love-blind male accidentally hooks up with the wrong species, the unwitting object of his affection may have a tough time escaping. The “lock” mechanism is a swollen pad, called nuptial pads, along each of the male’s “thumbs”. The pad is actually a gland that enlarges during breeding season and secretes a sticky glue-like mucous. The mucous, in combination with a rough pad surface, keeps the frog’s arms locked in place around the female.
This was another trio I found just a bit further down the shore. At least one of these guys knows what he’s doing. The female was that same weird shade of red. Apparently Wood Frogs will swim around in amplexus for an hour or more, but the actual egg-laying only takes about half an hour. The female lays her eggs in a large gelatinous mass, and the male releases his sperm over the eggs as she lays them. I looked around the edges of the pool where the frogs were, but saw no evidence of eggs anywhere. I must have found them in the early stages. The pond, apparently a vernal pond, had very little vegetation in it, so I hope they were able to find a suitable place to lay their eggs.
When I slipped the frogs back into the water, one male kicked off, propelling the whole group away from me toward the pond bottom. They weren’t very efficient swimmers in this state, clumsy and uncoordinated, and I mused how they would be easy pickings should something hungry come along. Good thing there weren’t any herons patrolling the shores of this pond. I guess, even though they’re somewhat vulnerable for an hour or so during the process, the odds of a predator happening across them during that period is pretty slim and most of them get the job done with no more threat than the occasional passing naturalist.