A small memorial

red-legged frog

(Posted a day late, because we unexpectedly were invited out to dinner…)

On Thursday I mowed the lawn. And when I mowed the part by the pond, I was appalled when I realized I’d run over a big frog. There it was, spread out on its back, dead as a doornail.

But then I went to dispose of the remains, and realized that the frog was stiff as a board and had clearly been there for a day or so. I may have mowed over its body, but I didn’t kill it. While this was  a relief in some ways, it was disturbing in others.

We moved to this property four summers ago. The number of frogs I saw around the pond then was astounding: my record was counting twelve in one casual circumnavigation, and I’m sure there were many more I didn’t see. Most were treefrogs, but a fair number were red-legged frogs, which are much bigger. It’s hard to count frogs unless you see them all at the same time (how do you tell individuals apart?) but I’d estimate that there might have been ten or so red-legged frogs hanging about the pond and slough that summer.

The year after that, the frog population overall went down a lot. We attributed this to the number of ducks visiting the pond—we’d fed an injured duck and then an orphaned duck, which of course attracted many more, and at first hadn’t realized that they ate frogs. Well, that was a lesson, and for the last two summers we’ve been careful not to feed the ducks. They come to the pond with their babies anyway, dabbling, but not as often, and they don’t stay as long.

But over the last two summers, although the treefrog population seems ear-splittingly fine, the red-legged population has seemed to decline. Last year I saw a few, but nothing like the numbers from the first year. This year I’ve only seen a couple—and this guy was one of them, and a big one.

And here’s the thing. Two days before I mowed, I saw this frog swim lethargically across the pond and hang slightly askew in some vegetation. I went and got my camera and took this picture. At the time I thought the frog was weirdly tolerant of my reaching a camera as far as I could towards it. Now I’m wondering if it was on its last legs.

And that leads to the big question: why? Why did it die? Was it just old? Was it sick? What’s happening to the population of red-legged frogs on our land? Is there something wrong with our pond, apart from ducks? (Everything seems healthy at the moment, although last year we had an algae bloom.) Is there some kind of natural cycle they go through?

More questions than answers, I’m afraid. But I’m hoping the frogs will come back to the previous numbers.

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