General Articles

Hopalong Casanova

The very first love song was sung by the frog, an odd fellow given to eating his own shirt

C. FRED BODSWORTH June 15 1948
General Articles

Hopalong Casanova

The very first love song was sung by the frog, an odd fellow given to eating his own shirt

C. FRED BODSWORTH June 15 1948

Hopalong Casanova

The very first love song was sung by the frog, an odd fellow given to eating his own shirt

C. FRED BODSWORTH

AN ARDENT lover is the frog. He sleeps from November until April, then, waking up with a tummy that has been six months empty, he goes awooing before breakfast. He and his lady love may spend a week pitching woo before either of them takes time off to snatch a bite to eat. Then they will totally ignore each other until next May rolls around when their love-on-an-empty-stomach ritual begins all over again.

Perhaps such devotion is no more than fitting to an animal that sings the world’s oldest love song. In fact, his was the first animal voice that the dawning world heard, for the frog people were croaking their melody millions of years before the buzzing bees and singing birds appeared on earth to swell the animal chorus.

There are something ljke 2,000 species of frogs and toads distributed throughout the world, most of them in the tropics where there is always a puddle close by, since the frog way of life demands puddles as surely as woodpeckers must have trees. Canada has only 17 species and most of them hang out in the southern parts of the Dominion where they can sleep all winter in the mud of a stream bottom without the danger of being turned into icicles.

There is no sharp scientific distinction between frogs and toads. In general, the streamlined, smooth-skinned species that leap instead of hop are known popularly as frogs, while the squat wartyskinned fellows are known as toads. Scientifically, they are all so closely related that they hardly deserve the distinction of different names.

To the biologist, frogs and toads have a special interest.

For they are first settlers; they belong to the animal family which millions of years ago made the great jump from water life to life on land. Every tadpole and polliwog makes the same change to this day when he sprouts feet and lungs and hops away from the pool where he began life. Frogs, toads and their cousins form the evolutionary bridge between the true water dwellers—the fishes—and the first true land dwellers—the reptiles.

Biologists call them Amphibia. The starchedfront gentry who have to pay a dollar and a half a plate for a frogs’ legs dinner call them extortionists.

The amphibians, like a new model of automobile in which the manufacturers are trying out a drastic change of mechanism, liad defects which had to be ironed out in later models. Their biggest defect is that they need both water and land to survive.

Later models of life—the reptiles, birds and mammals—overcame this defect by becoming bona fide land dwellers.

The frog and toad folk have one great asset, their ace card in the struggle for survival—They have a voice, a faculty not possessed by either the fish below them in the animal scale, or by the reptiles above them. Rather, the men of the family have a voice and when those puddle troubadours start their crooning the ladies flock to them like bobbysoxers to Frank Sinatra. Nearsighted and dullwitted, the frog clan would probably have followed the dinosaurs into extinction millions of years ago were it not for the fact that the ladies can always find their would-be hubbies simply by tracing down the source of the love song that has their froggy hearts aflutter.

But before we get too interested in the frogland drama of love in a puddle, let’s first look over the Canadian cast of actors.

Most familiar of the puddle troubadours is awkward Mr. Hop-hop, the common garden toad. He’s a friendly, harmless chap who, despite the superstitions with which folklore has laden him, couldn’t give you a wart even if he felt so inclined. Those brown warty-looking protuberances which cover his hide are glands secreting a mild poison. This poison cannot harm normal skin but it does irritate mucous membranes like the interior of a mouth. Result: dogs or other animals make the mistake of biting a toad only once.

The common toad is found throughout Canada from Alberta eastward and north at least as far as James Bay. Despite his slovenly appearance, he is the most musical of all Canada’s frog and toad people. The males sing only in the spring when they gather at the ponds to help the Mrs. with her egg laying. It’s a long, sustained, high-pitched musical trill.

Canada has other varieties of toads. There’s a small greenish fellow, Fowler’s toad, who is really a southerner but who becomes a Canadian citizen sometimes by taking up residence in Southern Ontario along the beaches of Lake Erie. British Columbia has two or three toads of its own which are unknown east of the Rockies. One of these, the spadefoot toad, has devised a novel means of keeping his skin moist. All other amphibians, when their skin dries out, shrivel up and die, but spadefoot merely starts digging and buries himself in moist earth, maybe a couple of feet below the surface.

Canada’s two commonest frogs are those green, black-spotted, agile leapers—the leopard frog, named for his spots, and the pickerel frog, which earned his name because anglers have discovered that he makes good bait. Both Continued on page 54

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are found only eastward of the Rockies and as far north as Hudson Bay. The leopard frog’s love song is a staccato series of croaks, the pickerel’s an unmusical raspy note that sounds like a shirttail ripping on a barbed-wire fence.

The daddy of all Canadian frogs and toads is the bullfrog, a hefty fellow with a chassis almost as big as a dinner plate who can span five or six feet in a leap. His song is a sonorous “jug-orum.” He’s usually found in Canada only from Ontario to Nova Scotia and north about as far as Timagami, but a few have been carried westward by man and the Burnaby Lake area near Vancouver has a colony of frogs whose ancestors are stock which escaped from artificial ponds there. But he’s not as common anywhere as he once was, for nature gave him a pair of hind legs which combine all the tasty flavors of white chicken meat and a mild fish and he’s been hunted more than any other frog.

Evidently the Rockies are a barrier that no frog or toad cares to hop. British Columbia’s commonest frog is the western spotted frog, a sturdy little leaper with prominent, inky-black spots on the top of his head.

Animated Bagpipes

In addition to these standard-model frogs and toads, there is an interesting tree-climbing group with adhesive discs on the tips of their toes. Some of them spend all of their lives above ground except for the winter months of hibernation and the few days in spring when they take to the ponds for egg laying. All of them are very small and have musical voices. A common one, the spring peeper or Hyla, is no bigger than a man’s thumbnail, but when a chorus of them start their high birdlike whistles even experienced naturalists sometimes wonder how kuch a clamor can come from creatures so small.

How do such small animals as frogs and toads produce so much sound? Take a flashlight and walk quietly along the side of ? frog pond some spring evening. Y>)U are likely to see a ¿oad, squatting at the stream’s edge with his throat puffed out in front of his head like a toy balloon. That ballooning throat, which may be bigger than his head, is the resonating box that produces his song.

Singing frogs and toads are actually animated bagpipes. The toads puff up their throats; the frogs, instead, inflate special sound sacs at the sides of their throats, then with their mouths and nostrils tightly closed they force this air back and forth between the lungs and mouth to create trills and croakings.

In frogdom it is usually the males who awaken first from their winter slumber. With the sleep yet hardly out of their big protruding eyes they gather in the pools and puddles and commence their love serenades.

No red-blooded lady frog can sleep for long with such a thrilling call beckoning her to the , honeymoon puddles. Like her mate, she hops off awooing-bent before she bothers to stop to eat.

Every species of frog has a different love call and there might be half a dozen or more species calling from the same pond, but every lady knows the song of her own kind and, because her eyesight is unreliable, it is the song alone which guides her to the proper mate.

In higher animals, like reptiles, birds and mammals, the eggs are fertilized within the female body, but in the amphibians and fish the eggs must be deposited first and fertilized by the males afterward. To accomplish this, fish and amphibians must lay their eggs in water so that the male sperms have a medium in which to swim about until they make contact with the eggs. Fish merely drop their eggs to the bottom and the males come along afterward for the fertilization process. The amphibian male, however, releases his sperm on the eggs as they are being laid. This results in a much higher

percentage of fertilization than is accomplished by fish.

Each frog egg consists of a small black germ of life surrounded by sticky transparent jelly. A toad may lay up to 10,000 eggs in a spring; frogs, depending on the species, lay 1,000 to 7,000.

The Leap to Land

Development of the young frog in the egg commences immediately. The outside coating of transparent jelly acts as a magnifying glass centring the heat of the sun on the growing embryo. The round black dot inside develops a tail until it looks like a comma. Then, after about a week, it hatches, a round body with a long flattened tail.

For several weeks it swims about, breathing by gills, and eating the tiny plant life which exists as a scum on the top of the water. At this stage the tadpole is virtually a fish. But under the skin four tiny legs are developing. The hind legs first, and then front legs, show as rounded swellings, then the skin bursts and the limbs appear. At the same time the lungs are developing.

Once his gills have been replaced by lungs, the tadpole comes up to the surface of the water occasionally for a breath of air. As his legs grow stronger, his tail becomes just unnecessary baggage. There’s a lolrof hard-earned food material gone into that tail, so the baby frog starts absorbing it all back into his body. With this new source of food, he grows rapidly; the tail shrivels into a tiny stump and finally disappears; then he leaps ashore and goes chasing flies like a good frog should. But it may be two to four years before he is full grown and feels his first springtime urge to go wooing for a mate.

The common toad takes only six or seven weeks to go through all these changes from egg to miniature adult. The leopard and pickerel frogs require two or three months. The bullfrog, giant of the frog clan, has to do a lot of growing, so much that he needs two full years to do it.

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Frogs and toads, particularly while they are tadpoles, have more enemies than any other animal except fish. Their life is a constant dodge to escape the turtles, snakes, herons and men who are forever hunting them. Eventually practically every frog dodges a bit too late, for biologists say not one in 10,000 survives long enough to die of old age. Some frogs are known to have lived to be 10 years old. Toads, protected by the semipoisonous nature of their skin glands, live longer; there is said to be a record of a toad that lived in a garden in Forfarshire, Scotland, for 50 years.

Eggs and tadpoles are eaten so voraciously by other animals that out of the 10,000 eggs laid by a toad probably only an average of a dozen will grow’ into adults, and of this dozen a mere two will survive until they are mature enough to go out love crooning and reproduce their kind. And when a frog at last finds himself in a death struggle with a snake or other enemy, with his last breath he does something which he has never before done in his life. Shrilly and piercingly, he screams.

The tadpoles that lived on their own tails grow up to be frogs and toads that eat their own coats. They are wrapped up in a skin that has no stretch and in order to allow for growth they have to discard that skin at frequent intervals. Fast-growing youngsters form new skins and throw off the old every two or three weeks, but adults get a new shirt only four or five times a year.

When a frog’s ready to change shirts he humps his shoulders and bends his head forward until the skin cracksdown the back and breast. Then, kicking and twisting, he rolls his hide off over his head and stuffs it with his front feet into his mouth. Underneath is his new skin, bright and shining, just like a new shirt fresh from the haberdashery.

But there comes a time late every autumn when the flies have disappeared and obviously the frog can’t keep eating his own skin until the flies return. Anyway, it’s far too cold during a Canadian winter for frogs and toads to be hopping around, because nature didn’t equip these creatures with an interior heating system that can maintain a constant body temperature. They are what the biologists call “cold-blooded.” Their body temperature grows colder or warmer depending on the temperature of the air or water around them.

When winter approaches, the large species of frogs choose as their winter boudoir the underwater mud of a pond or stream. Toads and the tree frogs stay on dry land, burrowing deeply into the soil or under a log. There they fall into the deep sleep of hibernation. A nip of frost won’t hurt them, as long as it doesn’t reach the heart.

Those Ancient Toads

The alarm clock which awakens the hibernating frog or toad is the warmth of spring. Occasionally a frog or toad gets into a deep well or some other such cold spot for hibernation where, even in midsummer, the temperature does not rise high enough to awaken him. Here he may snooze on and on for several years, eventually dying when there is no longer enough food matter left in his tissues to keep the sluggish fires of hibernation burning. Scientists have placed hibernating frogs and toads in refrigerators to discover how long they can remain alive in this state of suspended animation. They have found that four or five years is the limit.

This business of suspended animation, incidentally, provides the basis of one of frogdom’s most popular myths. Newspapers frequently publish reports of a frog or toad having been entombed

for dozens of years in concrete or rock and being still alive when released.

Biologists smile and say all these tales are the result of faulty observation or else deliberate hopper whoppers. Prolonged suspended animation, they say, is a biological impossibility. Whenever biologists have been able to investigate reports of live frogs or toads having been entombed many years in rock or concrete, they have always found that a crevice has existed through which the creature has crawled and that it is merely hibernating there for a single winter.

Just because froggy puts loving before eating in spring, don’t get the idea that he has a delicate appetite the year round. The truth is—he’s a glutton. And his gluttony puts dollars and cents into our pockets, for all spring, summer and fall he is filling his stomach about four times a day with the insects that go around chewing up our garden and field crops. Toads, especially, gobble up slugs, tent caterpillars, cutworms and flies at such a rate that they rank as one of mankind’s most beneficial allies. In areas where cutworms are numerous a toad may spend the whole summer living practically entirely on these pests, eating about 20 of them a day. Agricultural authorities have estimated the the annual damage done by a cutworm amounts to about one cent, therefore a toad eating one-course meals of cutworms all summer saves a farmer around $20.

Frogs at $1 a Pound

However, it is not when they eat, but instead, when they are eaten, that the frog folk assume their greatest dollar value to man. Frogs’ legs are a luxury-hotel delicacy in the same class as champagne and they command as fancy a price. The meat of the hind legs is white, more like chick* n than anything else, and except in the largest species of frogs this is the only part eaten. They appear on the menus of tony restaurants in several guises. “Frog sauté” is usually frogs’ legs fried quickly in butter; “froga la Maryland” is the same thing with a cream gravy added, or, labeled “à la Newburg,” they may be dipped in egg and bread crumbs, fried in deep fat and flavored with lemon juice or tartare sauce.

Canada’s leading frog hunting grounds are the Kawartha and Rideau Lakes areas of Eastern Ontario and the Montreal region of Quebec. Canadian froggers are now selling their catch at about a dollar a pound, which is less than Louisiana and Florida frogs’ legs bring, but is a big increase over the 35 cents a pound that was paid to Canadian frog hunters before the war. In an average year, Canada exports about half of her frog catch to the U. S. and consumes half at home. In 1946, according to Canadian Government statistics, the Dominion exported 80,438 pounds of frogs’ legs worth $71,081. All were bullfrogs, known as “jumbos” to the trade. They dress about eight legs to the pound.

Several years ago it became apparent that bullfrogs in many sections of Ontario were being knocked off by frog hunters faster than they were reproducing themselves. The reason— when a bullfrog falls in love he has eyes only for his girl friend and the froggers were catching them during the bullfrog’s rather late mating period as easily as picking daisies in a pasture field. Ontario’s lawmakers came to the frog’s defense and today it's illegal to catch them in June or July. And even if his legs weren’t worth a dollar a pound, any guy who goes foodless for six months and still feels romantic deserves an unmolested honeymoon ★