20 Aug Our Dead Frog

Lou, our frog, died this week. He grew to maturity just this summer and should have lived for a few years. We’re upset about it. Since putting in our pond four yeas ago, we’ve bought at least 60 tadpoles, in batches of 15 each season. The first two seasons, we made the mistake of raising bullfrogs, which overran the pond that second summer—they were leaping all over the yard and eating anything they could get into their formidable mouths. We vacated them to a nearby lake, then brought in Green frog tadpoles, a more civil breed. (You’ve got to start them as tads; otherwise, they won’t stay put.) Lou was the only Green to survive this last hard winter. We were proud of him. Actually, we thought he was a she and named him Lucy until, come June, he started croaking for a mate.

A green frog’s croak is more like a ram’s bleat. Or, actually, very much the sound you get from one of those old children’s toys you turn upside down and it makes a cow’s low. The croak of a Green Frog is loud enough to get your attention but not so loud that it disturbs neighbors. As summer wore on and Lou hunkered on his rock, bleating for a mate, we began to worry about him. It must have been lonely in that little pond.

The only company Lou had were two tiny leopard frogs, which he apparently ate. That’s one of the complications of introducing tadpoles into your pond—you’ve got to coordinate the growth cycles. Tadpoles are hardy but unpredictable. Sometimes the fish get them. Sometimes they seem to simply disappear. We’re hoping the little leopards got away; they’ll live outside the pond. But it’s hard to tell at this point.

The only frog visible now is a small Green, which we call Lou, Jr.. During Lou’s last week, it emerged from the pond and sat boldly near him. It seemed to unsettle Lou. When Lou disappeared, Jill speculated that the little Green had freaked him out. Several days went by. We missed Lou’s now-familiar bleating. There was something comforting in knowing that a semi-sentient being was camped out in the back yard, staking his claim and seeking a mate.

Then, two days ago, Jill found Lou’s dried, blackened body in the weeds near the water filter, just a foot from the pond. I figured he went into hiding when he got ill. A predator would have carried him off. Jill can’t stop shaking her head in dismay. What happened? Lou was doing so well. She’s read of the deadly chytrid fungus that’s taking out frogs all over the world. But his remains showed no signs of the fungus.

I’ve always loved frogs and their amazing architecture. My brothers and I never kept them as pets because frogs are infinitely more interesting in the wild, toeing their way through the mossy undergrowth. Once you put a frog in a jar, what do you have? We did handle our share of toads and frogs, however. My favorites were no bigger than a dime. These invariably peed in the palms of my hands. By the way, the rib-bit! call you hear from frogs in old Hollywood movies belongs to the Pacific Chorus frog. It’s a sound you won’t hear anywhere but in coastal California.

Some years ago, when I was hiking in California’s Sierras, I ran out of water and the only source I could find was a clear alpine lake full of dead frogs. I was above the tree line and autumn had begun. Apparently the night’s freeze had killed the frogs. But there were so many of them! Bloated and floating belly-up. I filled my canteen with lake water, then dropped in several iodine tablets. It was the worst tasting water, but only because of the iodine, which probably wasn’t necessary.

It will take a while for Jill and me to get over Lou’s death. The summer seemed so promising for him and we were sure a mate would emerge from the few remaining tadpoles. Jill has ordered yet another batch. Every day we find ourselves pausing at random during household chores and exchanging a look of regret, both of us lamenting, “Poor Lou!”