Saturday, July 2, 2011

One Big Bullfrog

A while back, I was cruising a rural lane enjoying the sights when an enormous lump on the road caught my eye. As I moved nearer, wondering what the unidentified mass might be - bear scat, horse apple, osage-orange fruit?! - the pile transformed into a bullfrog. Possibly the largest bullfrog that I've ever seen, and if I as yet have nothing more to point to in my life, I can honestly say that I've seen a lot of bullfrogs.

A true whopper of an American bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana. This photo was taken from my car window. I had the camera at hand, and figured I'd best snap a shot or two quickly, lest the spring-loaded legs of the long-toed beast catapult it into the weeds.

A note on the bullfrog's name: some authorities have made the case that this species and others should be placed in the much harder to pronounce genus Lithobates (Rana - Ray-nah; Lithobates - Lih-tho-bat-ees). The jury seems out on this proposal so I stick with the long-used name and the one that will be employed in all of your field guides. Whatever the case, the scientific epithet catesbeiana refers to the brilliant and productive English naturalist Mark Catesby (1692-1749). Among his many talents, Catesby was a skilled artist. Check out his rendering of his namesake bullfrog HERE.

Anyway, it turns out I had no worries about the bullfrog fleeing. The thing was not even in the slightest intimidated of me, or my 3,200 lb. car. It just sat there, regarding me with a Yoda-like inscrutability. It's likely that, if the frog had any thoughts at all regarding me, it was lament that I was probably too large to enwrap with its long viscous tongue, by which I could then be pulled into its expandable mouth and swallowed whole.

So I got out of my auto and lay on the pavement with the frog; always, always, working my hardest to bring you the best angles of creatures great and small. Even this intrusion failed to faze her. Now, from a much closer distance, she continued to inspect me with an unblinking stare. Not one millimeter did she move, and if this frog has anything to be grateful for, it is that I am not a frog-legger. There was a meal to be had here, and they say bullfrog gams taste like chicken.

Oh, I called her a "her". The way to tell bullfrog sexes apart is by the "ear", which is more appropriately referred to as the tympanic membrane. This is that drumskinlike round organ just behind the eye. In girls, the typanic membrane is about the same size as the eye; in males it is considerably larger.

I'd say this frog's body - just the body - was about six inches in length, maybe a bit more. Throw in the outstretched legs and you'd use up about all of the real estate on a foot-long ruler measuring her if she was dangled from her toes.

Such a massive predatory amphibian can catch prey we don't normally think of as meeting their demise at the hands (tongues?) of frogs. Big bullfrogs are known to snap up songbirds, small turtles, snakes, and nearly anything else that it is capable of overpowering and stuffing down its gullet. In a fabulous case of forever lamenting NOT having the camera close at hand, I once was walking a marsh's edge and observed numerous massive bullfrogs sitting in the shallows. One looked a bit odd, and after glassing it with the binocs, I saw a somewhat smaller frog, its head still jutting from its captor's mouth.

Bullfrogs create one of the classic summertime sounds, their loud growling roars echoing from ponds and wetlands. And I'm sure that the female starring in this blog has produced her share of little green monsters.

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1 comment:

Nina @Nature Remains said...

Please be careful, Jim.
I know you spare no sweat in bringing the very finest up close and personal discoveries to us, your readers, but I'd hate to look across the pond and see your feet sticking out of this whopper's mouth!