Frogger

140821_Bartrams Garden_8021acsOnce upon a time, there was a handsome frog. He sat upon the edge of a pond, waiting. But not for the kiss of a human lassie to change him into a human prince, for he was happy and proud to be a bullfrog. So proud that he soon burst into robust song. His skillful bellowing quickly drew a pretty female frog to him. All around him that spring, frogs and toads were staging similar little romantic dramas in ponds and bogs throughout the land.

140409_Tyler_8623 FrogspawnNot long after, little clumps of clear jelly filled with dark spots began to appear. Eggs! Thousands of them. This is the frogspawn of the wood frog, and the tadpoles-to-be are already visible.

140416_Tyler Toadspawn & Tadpoles_8961 acsToads lay their eggs not in round masses, but long strings. When the tadpoles emerge, they will consume the gelatinous casing for the nutrients it holds.

140423_Tyler Frog Bog_0969 acsIn spring and early summer, tadpoles are everywhere, swimming above the leaves left behind the prior fall…

140503_Mt Cuba_6509Harassing a fish who has no interest in them as a snack…

140416_Tyler Tadpoles_9041 acsAnd just doing what tadpoles do, eating and growing. Tadpoles are exclusively aquatic, and breathe through gills like fish. Dinner is algae and water plants. The length of time frogs and toads spend in the tadpole stage varies according to the species; in bullfrogs it may be up to two years. Eventually tadpoles begin the amazing transformation from aquatic larvae to terrestrial adult. Legs appear, and then arms. Their bodies change shape, the tail shortens, and gills are replaced by lungs.

140809_Bartrams Garden_7524acsBehold the froglet. Not yet fully mature, but no longer a tadpole, this youngster can breathe air and move about on land. He’s still got that tail, though.

140821_Bartrams Garden_8078acsYoung bullfrog, finding shade from the hot August sun in the lily pads. The tail has been absorbed into his body, and he’s fully mature, but he will continue to grow in size. Adult bullfrogs rest during the day, and hunt at night. Anything they can catch becomes prey – insects, fish, birds, even small mammals.

140821_Bartrams Garden_7983acsThe small pond is home to a surprisingly tame group of young bullfrogs. The presence of humans with cameras doesn’t seem to bother them much. Bullfrogs will remain near water much of the time, as they must keep their skin moist.

140813_Tyler_7665aAnother pond finds a green frog amidst the cattails. Green frogs are also primarily aquatic. See the ridges running along the frog’s back? That’s the best way to tell green frogs from bullfrogs; the latter lack these dorsolateral ridges.

FUN FACT: The roundish circle behind the frog’s eye is the tympanum, an external “ear” of sorts. It transmits sound to the frog’s inner ear. In females, the tympanum is about the same size as the eye; in males it’s twice as big. An easy way to tell the boys from the girls!

140810_Mineral Hill_7643acsA wood frog sports a robber’s mask as he lingers on the leaves scattered across the forest floor. Wood frogs live in low moist woodlands and forested swamps. In the winter they migrate to nearby uplands, returning in the spring to the vernal pools, to search out a mate and begin the cycle anew.

Waiting

HNWR_7534acs2 There is a moment during the approach of a summer thunderstorm when nature teeters on a razor’s edge. To the east, the sky is a brilliant blue; to the west, dark storm clouds boil. In between, just for an instant, everything stops. The wind dies, squirrels go still, birds cease their chattering. The air is thick with tension, quivering with electricity and the promise of the storm to come. Soon enough the wind will rise and the heavens open. But in this serene snippet of time, Nature is hushed, holding her breath… waiting.

Early spring is equally on the cusp, at the meeting place of seasons. The frantic weeks when the trees and plants explode with flowers and new greenery are the future. The winter coat of brown the land still wears is the past. But now the sky is blue, and the sun is warm. On days such as these, it seems that humans and wildlife alike are filled with anticipation. Waiting.

Buds Magnolia_7861acsYoung spring buds of the magnolia dream of being flowers. The first bee of the season dreams of the flowers to be. Waiting.

Tyler Flowers_7646acsTyler Frogspawn_7677a Promise in a jelly filling floats in vernal bogs and pools. These are the eggs of the wood frog. Each dark spot holds the potential of a tadpole, each tadpole the hope of a frog.

Tyler Frog Wood_7753acsMale wood frogs, having passed the winter in a state of frozen animation, are alive and looking for love. Waiting.

FUN FACT: Wood frogs make antifreeze! They survive the winter by freezing, their metabolism shutting down and their hearts stopping. A special antifreeze substance they manufacture limits the freezing of their cells, although ice does form in between the cells. When the weather warms up, they thaw out and go in search of mates.

Tyler Flowers_7620aTyler Flowers_7609a Early blooming flowers like snowdrops, crocus, and winter aconite bring a welcome splash of color to a drab landscape. For them, the wait is over; this is their time to shine.

Nest Box Day 1_7793acs A new home has been constructed, in hopes of attracting a feathered family. Waiting.

Flowers Scilla_7823aCali_7901acsA sleepy dog in the sunshine waits for nothing, content to be in the moment.

3 HNWR Tree Swallow_5543 ASCold winds and rain will interrupt our reverie soon enough. The fullness of spring is yet over the horizon. For now, it is enough to join other creatures in the sun, listen to the liquid trill of the northern cardinal and watch the tree swallows twitter on their nest boxes. For now, in this still, quiet moment, Nature holds her breath, dreaming, anticipating…

Waiting.Flowers Crocus_7814acs

The Critter Radio Traffic Report

Cape May Point State Park_4230 aWondering what the roads are like on your way to work today? Critter Radio, KRTR 99.9 FM, presents the Critter Traxx Traffic report, sponsored by Critter Traxx Granola. Let’s go to Darryl Dragonfly, our Eye in the Sky. Daryl, what are you seeing on our highways and byways today?

Forsythe NWR Turtles_6197 aWell, folks, it’s a typical rush hour here in southern New Jersey, not a lot of volume, but traffic is crawling. Up north at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, many of the thoroughfares are actually waterways. Diamondback terrapins are the ultimate sport utility, built for land or water, but not speed. Slow and steady wins the race.

Forsythe NWR Insect_6461 a This grasshopper may not seem to be tearing up the asphalt, but he’s leaps and bounds ahead of everybody else!

FUN FACT: Grasshoppers hear with their tummies! They have a simple auditory organ, called a tympanum, on each side of their abdomens. They’re much better at detecting rhythm than pitch. They also “sing”, by either rubbing their legs against their wings (stridulation) or snapping their wings while they fly (crepitation).

OC 51st Street Structures_5861 a I’m making my way over Ocean City now. Traffic here is in better shape. Bay Avenue is all clear.

OC Dolphins_3670 a The dolphins are swimming along at a nice pace.OC Dolphins_3656 a Whoops! Bit of a fender-bender on the southbound Ocean Turnpike. Looks like the sun glare got in somebody’s eyes.

OC Corsons Inlet_4773 a Back on land, right of way issues have some coquina shells at a complete standstill. Don’t you just hate those four-way stops? Nobody ever wants to cross the intersection first. “After you.” “Please, you first.” “No, I insist.”

Cape May Point State Park_4115 aAt Cape May Point State Park there was a massive duckweed spill moments ago. A green frog looks like he’s wearing most of it! He’s been forced to pull off on the shoulder of the eastbound Creek Expressway. A trip through the frog wash may be in order.

Cape May Point State Park_4090 a Hoping to avoid the duckweed altogether, an American Lady is enjoying a break from her travels. Nothing like a little flower nectar at the truck stop for a nice respite.

Maybe we should all take a page from her book and call it a day. This is Darryl Dragonfly, your Eye in the Sky, with the Critter Traxx Traffic report on Critter Radio, KRTR 99.9 FM. Remember, be nice to your fellow travelers.

OC 51st Street_5847 aCONSERVATION PIECE: The northern diamondback terrapin is the only turtle out of 300 species to live in brackish waters like those found in the coastal salt marshes, above. The terrapins are at the top of the food web and play an important role in keeping the populations of their prey from growing out of hand. Diamondbacks are themselves in a lot of trouble in New Jersey, however. They have lost a lot of the salt marsh habitat in which they live and the barrier island sand dune habitat in which they nest. They drown in commercial crab traps. Human car traffic kills an average of more than 500 gravid (egg-laden) female terrapins each year in Cape May and Atlantic Counties alone. Thankfully, dedicated people are fighting to protect the turtles, by building barrier fences, helping turtles cross roads safely, rescuing injured turtles, and even retrieving eggs to incubate them and rear the young turtles. For more information on this effort: http://wetlandsinstitute.org/conservation/

Coming up: Crab Dance

The Critter Radio Sports Update

HNWR Painted Turtle_6615 aHey, hey, hey sports fans! This is Shelly Zuppa with your sports update here on KRTR 99.9 FM – Critter Radio. Today we have a real treat for all you sports fans – live coverage of yesterday’s hotly contested Herp Swamp Hockey match. Nothing like the timely coverage you’ll get here on Critter Radio! Let’s throw it over to our play-by-play announcer.

Hi, folks, I’m Myrtle Turtle the Dapper Snapper, and welcome to the Marsh Arena. For the Herp Swamp Hockey novices out there, let’s review the game. The league is restricted to herps – reptiles and amphibians, in other words. No fish, no fowl. No rules, no referees, no holds barred. Four teams for all the marbles, competing on land and in water.

HNWR_5624 a Looks like we’re all set for the match to start. The crowd is trembling with anticipation…

HNWR_9701 a…as their favorite players from the Tinicum Turtles take the field.

CM Higbee Beach_9885 aRight off the bat, the Higbee Beach Fence Lizards take the offensive by going on defense. These guys would lead the league if the game were Freeze Tag. At the first whiff of an opponent, they become motionless. “If I don’t move – you can’t see me!” is their battle cry.

HNWR Snake_7379 ACSThe strategy must have worked, because we can see they’ve got this Garter Snake player from Serpents United on the rocks.

HNWR Bullfrog_7722 ASMeanwhile, this American Bullfrog is mired deep in his own zone. Maybe water polo is more his game.

HNWR Tadpoles_5187 aHalftime entertainment keeps to the water with a nice display of synchronized swimming by three baby fish. Yes, folks, there’s nothing we Snapping Turtles like better than a good fish fry. Or three…

Tinicum_6389 Alt 2 AS OrigBack to the action, these Painted Turtles from Heinz seem to have been benched. The Tinicum Turtles try to overwhelm other teams with sheer numbers, but spend most of the game sunning themselves on the sidelines. It’s enough to make a fellow turtle weep.

CM Higbee Beach_9945 aWait, folks, what’s this… There’s a Spider Crab on the field and creeping away with the ball… Oh my gosh, we have a streaker! Don’t look, Ethel!

CMPSP Snake_9767 aThe Cape May fan contingent is not happy with this turn of events, as a Ribbon Snake shows his displeasure.

HNWR_2233 aWith time running out, Serpents United have taken a risky strategy by sending a Garter Snake player deep into the opposition’s Thistle to try to score. It’s a highly unusual place for a snake – but…

CM Higbee Beach_9942 aYES! He scores!

GOOOOOAL!

And the Serpents take the match!

Well, folks, it’s all over but the shouting. This Horseshoe Crab spectator seems overwhelmed with emotion. What an exciting game!

The rematch is bound to be a barn-burner. Be sure to tune in again to catch all the action right here on KRTR Critter Radio.

Blimp_3787 a copyI’m Myrtle Turtle the Dapper Snapper from the Marsh Arena – good night!

Aerial coverage provided by the Goodyear Blimp.

FUN FACT: Most crabs that walk on land do so sideways, but the Spider Crab usually goes forward. It’s particularly fond of draping itself with all sorts of adornments, including living sea plants, bits of shell and other oddities. Presumably this is for concealment, but maybe the crab’s just really fashion forward!

Coming up: Independence Day: Wissahickon Wanderings