House of Herps #10: The Frog Prince

Princess and the Frog
"Princess and the Frog", by ihave3kids on Flickr

.

Come sit beside me, I’ll tell you a tale
Of loving and longing and terrible betrayal;
A story quite sad, but wonderful, too.
Here, have a seat; come and listen, won’t you?

Our story begins with a maiden so fair,
With sparkling eyes, and long flowing hair.
Her heart glowed as pure as the light of a star,
And men came to court her from near and afar.

She saw many suitors, but none she desired,
And as the years passed she grew ever tired.
Was there really no man for whom she could fall?
She couldn’t believe there was no one at all.

The thought made her sad, so one sunny day
She paused at a well that she passed on her way.
She extracted a coin and she tossed it inside.
“I just want true love, nothing more!” so she cried.

Of course, nothing happened, it was just a well –
What did she expect, a genie, a spell?
She turned to the road from the well with a sigh
And carefully wiped a small tear from her eye.

Three months had gone by and she’d all but forgot
Her wishing-well plea and the help that she’d sought.
But when she came home one warm summer night
There waiting for her was a frog, on the light.

It clung to the chime in a warm rosy glow
And turned its small head to say brightly, “Hello!
I’m quite glad you’re home, I’ve been waiting awhile.
May I come in?” and it gave her a smile.

Well, what would you do, were you in her shoes?
You’d be qutie surprised, and likely confused.
She stared at the frog, her mouth hanging wide
But gathered herself and gestured inside.

It followed her in and took one of the seats
While she busied herself getting tea and some treats
She sat down beside it and cautiously said,
“How may I help? Need you food or a bed?”

“I have need of neither, for I am a frog;
I’ll have crickets for lunch, and I’ll sleep in a log.
What I must ask is a great deal more:
I have a small house and can’t open the door.”

She scratched her fair head. “I’m not sure I see…
Is the door stuck? Or lost you the key?”
“The door opens fine,” it said, batting a hand.
“The problem is that I’m no longer a man.

An old evil witch whom I passed on the road
I offered no smile, so she made me a toad.”
“But you’re a frog,” the girl pointed out.
“Frog didn’t rhyme. Besides, there’s no doubt

Either amphibian would be too short.
So now to get in I will need your support.”
“It would give you trouble, I have to agree.
But might I ask why it is you chose me?”

“Are you surprised that I came to you?
In all the land no one’s heart is as true.
And also I hope if the spell is undone,
How lucky would I be if you were the one?”

“The one to do what?” she asked with a frown.
“To open the door,” he said, and hopped down.
“Now will you, or won’t you, help a poor man
Who’s in a small bind and could use a good hand?”

Whether man or a frog – not sure which you are –
I can’t refuse help if the place is not far.”
“I’m incredibly grateful,” said the frog with a grin.
“Shall we go now? I’m keen to begin.”

And so they stepped out to head to his home.
She took nothing with her save toothbrush and comb.
(He’d promised the journey would not take too long,
But better to be safe should something go wrong.)

She thought that he’d lead her along into town,
But rather than uphill they turned and went down.
He moved along quickly – though small for a frog;
Just to keep up she broke into a jog.

It didn’t take long till she ran out of breath.
“I need to pause here, or you’ll run me to death.
I won’t be long, I just need a short sit.
Go on ahead, I’ll catch up in a bit.”

“Quite fine by me,” he said with a wink.
“I’ll stop at that pond up ahead for a drink.”
As the frog hopped away she lay back in the grass
And stared up at the sky to watch the clouds pass.

Ten minutes later she was startled awake
By the sudden appearance on her lap of a snake.
A small narrow green thing with little black eyes;
From its expression it shared her surprise.

“My goodnesss! I’m sssorry, don’t mean to intrude,”
The snake said, “I ssslipped as I grabbed at sssome food.
I fell from the tree, but I’ll be on my way.”
She waved after him. “Hope you have a nice day!”

She hadn’t been meaning to fall in a doze,
And with thoughts of the frog, so now quickly she rose.
She hurried to catch up the frog at the pond,
Hoping he hadn’t gave up and gone on.

She reached the pond edge but no one was there.
“Mr Frog?” she called out to the warm summer air.
“He is down here with me,” said a low rumbly voice.
“I didn’t expect I’d be offered a choice.”

“What choice would that be?” she nervously said –
A deep voice like that surely meant he was dead.
She peered in the water and gulped back a scream,
For there was a ‘gator, its eyes all a-gleam.

“Why, what’s up for lunch. Such options there are!
Should it be frog legs? Or maiden tar-tar?”
The beast licked its lips and gave a broad smile.
“I think I’ll have maiden, it has been a while…”

“My vote’s for neither,” she said, grabbing a stick.
“For one thing, I’m sure I would make you be sick.
I’m on the rag, it’d ruin the flavour.
And as for the frog legs, they’ve gone out of favour.”

“I don’t believe you.” It gave her the eye.
“You smell clean to me, it’s clearly a lie.”
Then it leapt from the water and snapped at her arm.
She jabbed with her stick and fell back in alarm.

The ‘gator’s bite missed and she chose not to linger
In case it decided to try for a finger.
She dashed down the road, her head in a fog
Of guilt-stricken grief for the fate of the frog.

When finally her tears dried enough she could see,
She paused a the base of a giant oak tree.
Nothing there looked like the places she knew.
It seemed she was lost; she knew not what to do.

As she stood there with her hands intertwined,
She heard a soft sound of the rustling kind.
It came from the leaves underneath a small shrub,
And as she stood watching there out popped a grub.

Well, out popped a lizard, the grub in its jaws,
But one so enormous it gave her a pause.
When it saw her staring the lizard did say,
“Kint top a tock, ut ahg uh gud ay.”

“But wait!” she called out. “Which way to the town?”
“Mrmph it phway!” it it said, without slowing down.
She looked where it pointed – nothing but bush –
But gave a small shrug and walked in with a push.

The forest was dark and without much around.
She went quite a way without hearing a sound.
But then from some rocks she heard a dry rattle,
A sound that tells instincts, “you’d better scadaddle!”

She froze in her tracks and tried not to move.
“Well, what have we here?” said a voice, low and smooth.
“A lovely losst maiden, it sssure looksss to me,
How lucky I’m hungry; my dinner you’ll be.”

The serpent then slithered out into her view:
A monstrous snake – she guessed seven-foot-two.
A size that could easily swallow her whole,
And go for a week feeling comfortably full.

Before she could move, the rattlesnake struck,
But grabbed just her dress by some stroke of luck.
She didn’t allow it the time to retry,
Or even a chance to wish her goodbye.

Blindly she ran, off into the trees,
Crashing through stumps and bruising her knees.
Finally she reached a small sandy glade.
She stopped for a rest, at the edge in the shade.

Hands on her knees, she stared at the dirt,
And spotted some tracks that made her alert:
A long narrow trail, and there, just beyond,
A snakeskin! Still fresh, the snake not long gone.

Surprise turned to dread as she heard a soft sound,
And she quietly grabbed a thick stick from the ground.
It’d followed her here! Well, she’d let it see
A dinner for snake she wasn’t to be.

She didn’t look twice when it stuck its head out.
She crashed the stick down in a great forceful clout.
The snake gave a cry of alarm and surprise –
She could nearly see all the stars in its eyes.

“The heck was that for? I coulda been dead!
Thank goodness your stick was just wood and not lead!”
“I’m dreadfully sorry!” she truthfully said.
“Afraid I mistook you for another instead.

Please do forgive me, I’ll be on my way.
You wouldn’t believe, it’s not been my day.”
She trudged along, weary, longing for home
(And wishing she wasn’t so scared when alone).

She wasn’t too certain she’d gone the right way;
It felt like she’d walked in large circles all day.
Just when she felt about ready to crack,
She popped out of the trees onto a dirt track.

Delighted, she pondered which way she should go,
With nothing to guide her, and no way to know.
But then she caught sight of some blue in the green:
The small little pond where the ‘gator had been?

Slowly (in case the great beast was still there)
She crept to the pond and peered round with care.
She quickly could see it was not the same one:
The other’d had branches concealing the sun.

Here, silver birds called and screamed from the sky,
While many small turtles sunbathed waterside.
They seemed unconcerned by the things in the air,
Soaking the sun up without any care.

As she stood wondering what to do now –
Maybe try asking directions to town –
A large painted turtle paused by her side
And watching the others it casually sighed.

“It seems that each summer flies faster than last.
I’ve seen twenty-six and as each one has passed,
I’ve looked forward to taking my long winter sleep,
Holding my breath, and buried down deep.

Now, I’m an old turtle but many new born
Face many perils and might not make it till morn’.
For instance, some turtlets that hatched just today
Can’t make it to water, a log in their way.

Perhaps you could help? They’re not too far back –
Just near that tree at the side of the track.”
“I’ll do what I can,” she said looking ’round,
“But before you go, could you point me to town?”

She found the small hatchlings just where she’d been told,
And fashioned her dress skirt in to a thick fold.
She placed them inside, lifting one at a time,
Then walked through the mud to the low waterline.

As she set the last free and sat watching it go,
She heard a small voice call out to her: “So!
Finally made it, I see! Is your normal style
Keeping frog princes waiting awhile?”

She turned and looked down, and there the frog sat,
Smiling bemusedly (and seeming intact).
“You didn’t get eaten!” she exclaimed in delight.
“Oh, that darn ‘gator – you gave me a fright!”

So pleased was she feeling she stretched her arms out,
Collected him up and kissed his small snout.
There was a bright flash that blinded her eyes,
And she let go of the frog with a start of surprise.

Then standing before her was a tall handsome man
Who smiled and reached down to offer a hand.
“You wouldn’t believe just how awkward it’s been
To be a large man stuffed in a frog skin!

I’m eternally grateful! How can I repay?
If it’s in my means, then whatever you say.”
She took his hand shyly and rose from the ground.
Feeling quite speechless, she brushed dirt from her gown.

It’s not every day that a frog, understand,
Suddenly up and turns into a man.
It took her a moment to come to her senses
(Attractive young men just disarm her defenses).

He’d offered her anything within his means,
And his eyes were quite honest, whatever he’d been.
She considered the risks of (stranger or not)
Inviting him home (he was pretty hot).

“I guess you don’t need me to help with your home…
So maybe for starters, lead me to my own?
And if you had time, if you’ve nowhere to be…
You’re perfectly welcome to stay for a tea…”

Of course you must know how the story then ends:
Happy together, a great tale for friends.
Still to this day she firmly ascribes
Her happiness to a wish made well-side.

(And okay, there was no betrayal, really,
But loving and longing – I got two out of three.)

—————–

Cast of characters, in order of appearance:

Frog on a Doorbell by Cascade View Photography
7/23/10–86°F–73%H–TFI by Science & Soul
What’s a Golf Ball Worth? by Living Alongside Wildlife
Eastern Fence Lizard: The Next Generation by Anybody Seen My Focus?
7-foot Diamondback Rattlers in Poulan, Georgia? by Living Alongside Wildlife
Snaky Days by Birder’s Lounge
Mambas on the Loose in Minnesota by Living Alongside Wildlife
Saturday, September 4, 2010 by Philly Herping
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge by Kind of Curious
Turtlets by The Marvelous in Nature

The October edition of House of Herps is currently looking for a host! Contact Amber and Jason (hosting [at] houseofherps [dot] com) if you’re interested in hosting next month. If you can’t host but would still like to participate, send your submissions to submissions [at] houseofherps [dot] com

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One letter different

Cardinal at Jeep mirror as seen through lilac bush in winter

This afternoon, Dan called me to the window to point out the cardinal. He was hanging on to the side of Dan’s Jeep, checking itself out in the reflection of the side mirror. I grabbed my camera and tried for a few shots, but unfortunately there’s a very large lilac bush between the house and the cars. The birds are loving it for perching in when coming to visit the feeder, and it will be tremendously lovely in the spring when it blooms, but it did make it difficult to get a good view of the cardinal. This was the best shot I could manage, and you almost need to know what’s going on to be able to pick out the details in the photo. Oh well. Can’t win them all. I was mostly interested in documenting it because it’s the first time I’ve personally witnessed this behaviour, which is actually rather common in cardinals. It’s a territorial thing, they think they’re attacking an intruder. Since cardinals hold their territories year round, the behaviour can be observed in the winter as well as the summer.

What’s the difference between a cardinal and a carnival? A single line that turns a sideways-v into a d.

Okay, I’m sorry about that. But I had to draw a connection somehow, didn’t I?

Two carnivals up recently that are worth checking out. The first is I And The Bird #115, being hosted this edition by Jason of Xenogere. Jason adopts and adapts “original and unadulterated Thoreau” to share the links for this carnival. Curious what the heck that means? You’ll have to go check it out!

And the second is the inaugural edition of House of Herps, which coincidentally happens to be the brainchild of Jason, as well, in partnership with Amber of Birder’s Lounge. This fine first edition gifts us with much great herpetological reading, so make sure you swing by to pick up your presents!

Asclepius and the House of Herps

Garter Snake skin

Last week a new blog carnival was announced on the Nature Blog Network. Though there are carnivals dedicated to everything from birds to trees to deserts, reptiles and amphibians (collectively herpetiles, shortened to herps) had been overlooked. This new carnival, called House of Herps, was organized and brought to fruition through the efforts of Amber of Birder’s Lounge and Jason of Xenogere. The first carnival will be hosted at the official House of Herps homepage, but subsequent editions will be roaming, hosted at a different blog each month. The deadline for submissions for the first issue is December 15 (which is tomorrow as of when I’m typing this).

It hasn’t been warm enough for herps to be active about here since early November, so I have no recent herp encounters that I might share. Instead, I thumbed through my photo archives to see what I might be able to find. I recalled a few snakes in the summer that I took photos of but never got around to posting (there’s always lots of those). As I was looking for them, though, I stumbled across these photos, taken September 17, back when the trees were still mostly covered in green leaves, and snow was but some vague idea in the future.

They’re photos of a shed snakeskin. I found this skin threaded through the long grasses beside our front steps. You can actually tell the species of snake that shed the skin from the pattern of its scales, if the skin is sufficiently intact, but we have few enough snake species up here that just its size told me it was from a Garter Snake. Don’t ask me how you’d check the scales; I don’t find too many shed skins, so I’ve never bothered looking up how to identify the species.

Garter Snake skin

Snakes are somewhat unusual in the vertebrate world in that periodically they’ll shed their entire skin. How often they do so depends on a few factors, including age of the snake, the snake’s metabolism, the particular species of snake. Young snakes, in their first year or two of life, may moult as often as once a month, or perhaps as few times as every three months. Older snakes might moult once or twice a year.

Whether the moulting allows for the snake to continue growing, in the way that an insect shedding its exoskeleton allows it to grow, is still disputed. At the very least, though, the moult allows the snake to replace damaged scales, and also to shed itself of ectoparasites such as mites. Mammals and birds are constantly shedding damaged or dead skin cells (eg. dandruff), but reptiles must periodically moult their skin to refresh it. This regular “renewal” is thought to be the reason the snake appears on the well-known symbol of medicine (the Rod of Asclepius).

I like how in the above photo you can still see the grooves of the keel along each dorsal (back) scale.

Garter Snake skin

This is the head end, but the skin from the head is actually tucked inside the tube. A snake’s scales are made of a hard substance secreted from the epidermis: keratin, the same stuff that forms our fingernails. Just as our fingernails are firmly attached to the skin underneath, so too are the snake’s scales. When it comes time to moult, the snake forms a layer of specialized cells in between the scales and the epidermis. At the same time, it begins forming a new layer of scales underneath the old ones and the new specialized cells.

Once the new scales are ready to show off to the world, the specialized cells between the two layers of scales liquifies, essentially freeing the old skin from its bonds. The snake will rub its chin and nose against a rock or something else hard and abrasive to break the edge of the old scale layer. It then either finds a tight spot or something rough to rub up against, and uses that to grip the old skin as it wriggles out. Often the old skin will just peel back off the snake like rolling a tube sock off your foot, with the result that the shed skin is actually inside-out. Check out the second image again. The keels of the scales actually face into the tube, not out from.

Garter Snake skin

Keratin, when formed thinly enough and softened with moisture, is actually fairly pliable and transparent. Think of your fingernails (if you ever let them grow long enough :) after a shower or washing the dishes. While the skin and scales are attached to the snake’s body they are kept hydrated, so they offer a softer protection than, say, the armour of a pangolin. They’re easily punctured by teeth or talon, and mostly serve as protection to the snake from pokey things in its environment such as twigs or rocks.

See how each belly scale has a bit of a backward-facing lip on it? Those help provide grip to the snake as it’s sliding across the ground, since the rest of the scale is very smooth and designed to reduce friction.

Garter Snake skin

I carefully turned the snake’s head out so I could see it, but of course because the whole skin was inside out, the two jaws were reversed, with the lower jaw appearing to be above the upper one. Check out the pigment in the scales here. The eyes are actually covered by very thin, very transparent scales as well. Snakes have no eyelids, and so never blink; they rely on these thin scales to protect their eyes from damage. (For those movie trivia buffs, the snake at the zoo in the first Harry Potter movie blinks at Harry, something an actual snake is incapable of doing.)

As the outer skin is separated from the new inner skin, it will begin to dry out and lose its lustre, even before it’s actually shed, giving the snake a slightly unhealthy look. Just prior to a snake starting its moult, its eyes go cloudy blue-white, and its vision is very limited. During this period it will often stop eating and find itself a safe place to hole up until it can see again. Although the websites I checked didn’t specifically say so, I think the cloudiness is caused by the liquification of that middle layer of cells; once the outer skin has been severed and the liquified cells either reabsorbed or whatever it is that happens to them, the eyes will clear up again.

The whole process takes about two weeks. Now imagine doing that twice a year. Aren’t you glad you’ve got dandruff instead?