True Confessions

I have a confession to make. The name “Tadpole Haven” has a dastardly origin. In the 1920s, a neighbor started a Bullfrog “ranch”, raising the big frogs for their tasty (I guess–never been brave enough to try them) legs, served up at Seattle restaurants. The name of the Bullfrog ranch was –you guessed it– Tadpole Haven. When the Depression hit in the early 1930s, Tadpole Haven went belly up, so to speak, the Bullfrogs were let loose into the adjoining lake and ever since have been serenading us on summer nights, simultaneously snarfing down the native salamanders, frogs, toads, ducklings and pretty much anything else they can get their big mouths around.

So Tadpole Haven is a recycled, or rather, re-used, name. Actually, I re-purposed the name, applying it to a higher cause than the original. It was originally used to market an invasive species, introduced by humans, which wreaked havoc on the ecosystem. Now, I use the name to market native species (of plants) which humans re-introduce to areas upon which havoc had previously been wrought by humans and their invasive hench-frogs. And from ANY frog’s point of view, a place that nurtures their growth and life is an honest Haven; a euphemistic Haven that is really a butcher shop is no Haven at all.

Pacific Chorus Frogs have laid quite a few clutches of eggs on the native plants in the nursery’s kiddie pools (we really are a Haven). They are elongating into the shape of tadpoles. The warm spring days will help them develop until they hatch.

In the lake, Northwest Salamander eggs are developing within the firm gel of their soft-ball-sized egg masses. The female amphibians lay their egg clutches on the stems of native plants: sedges, rushes, Water Parsley (Oenanthe sarmentosa), Marsh Cinquefoil (Comarum palustre), Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea), to name a few. Long-toed Salamanders also lay their eggs in the lake, but those eggs are hard to see; the egg clutches are less than an inch long. Hopefully, we also have some Red-Legged Frogs breeding in the lake.

The tiny Pacific Chorus Frogs (adult’s bodies don’t get much over one inch long) come in a few different colors. Usually they are green, but also can be beige or brown. Each frog has a unique pattern of spots. They are also called Tree Frogs or Spring Peepers. They are one of several species of amphibians that live in and around Tadpole Haven.

Like Pacific Chorus Frogs, Northwest Salamanders, Long-toed Salamanders, Red-Legged Frogs and Rough-skinned Newts live most of their lives in the forests or wetland margins surrounding the bodies of water where they breed, lay their eggs and live their pre-metamorphosis tadpole phase. The invasive Bullfrogs (boo-hiss) need year-round water; their pollywogs take two summers to mature into frogs, and the adults remain in or near water most of their lives migrating as needed to find new territories.

During our years as volunteer monitors, my cousin Andy and I found occasional Red-Legged Frog egg masses the first few years (see my previous blog entry). We never saw, or expected to see, the eggs of the Oregon Spotted Frog, which has been declared extirpated in the area. I have not seen any Western Toads since I was a kid. The Western Toad suffered a population crash due to a fungal disease. But the loss and degradation of habitat caused by humans are the biggest factors causing loss of amphibians (these threats will likely be magnified in the future by the effects of climate change and disease—sigh).

Red-Legged Frogs spend their adult lives in the forest. Ensatinas and Western Redback Salamanders are salamanders that live their entire life cycle on land, in forests. As development has destroyed our forests, it has killed off these forest-dependent amphibians. So it is important to protect still-standing forests from clearing, grading and building. Buffers that are required around wetlands, and greenbelts winding through housing developments are no substitute for healthy local forests, which shelter many more species.

Many amphibians are especially sensitive to chemical changes in their habitat: for example, road, fertilizer and pesticide runoff into the waters in which they breed. Or pesticide and chemical fertilizer use in back yards: the Western Redback Salamander has no lungs–it breathes through its skin, directly absorbing every toxin.

If I could work up an appetite for Bullfrog legs, maybe I could reduce ONE of the threats to native amphibians. My neighbor Neal toldme how to catch bullfrogs at night: “Frogs’ eyes glow in the light. The light paralyzes them. So you get two people, one with a flashlight. You listen for the croaking –then you row in slow and quiet ‘til you’ve got the flashlight an inch from their nose, then you grab’em behind the ears and put’em in a bucket.”

Then you either cook ’em up for supper, or humanely kill them by sticking them in the freezer. Eew! (That last suggestion from Brian Bodenbach,* who contributed to this tome)

Sounds like fun, but I think I’ll wait for summer! Bullfrog-pops anyone?

* Brian Bodenbach, Biosphere Landscape Co., brian@biospherecompany.com

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