30 May 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Frogs in a pond

It took a trip to a farm in the Karoo to reconnect with frogs. It seems strange to find frogs in such a dry place as this semi-desert. But here they survive, thanks in part to an unpolluted environment.

A frog in meditative lotus position. Sort of. Photo Chris Marais

I remember seeing the odd frog hopping around our garden when I was a child. But as I grew up, they just seemed to vanish.

Five years ago we moved from the big city to a small country town. After a glass of wine outside in the starry summer darkness, I spotted a movement at my feet that greatly interested my cat.

It was not a frog, but a Karoo toad – a denizen of dry areas. I transported it to a safe place of much leaf litter and distracted the intrigued cat.

Intricately patterned, almost ornate. They were quite beautiful. Photo Chris Marais

The wonder of frogs really came rushing back to me when my husband, Chris, and I recently stayed on a Karoo farm outside the small town of Springfontein, smack bang in the middle of the country.

As we made our way to 1 of the 5 lovely cottages on Prior Grange farm, I caught a series of movements and plopping sounds from a pond to the left of the door. By the time I got there, whatever had made the noise was gone.

Later on, I snuck up on them and saw these rather fabulous creatures, transported straight from a fairy tale, sitting around a pretty little pond. Speckled, they varied in colour between reddish brown and pea green. They sometimes took turns to lurk in a patch of wet sand on the 1 side, then hopped back to their positions around the pond, assuming postures of intense contemplation. 

Some were pea green, others were brownish. Photo Chris Marais

If I came too close, they would simply throw themselves into the pool, leaving hardly a ripple.

But if I left them alone, they would cautiously pull themselves out the pool like professional swimmers and waddle over to their stations once more.

What on Earth kind of frog were these? I cursed myself for not bringing my South African Frogs: A Complete Guide, by Neville Passmore and Vincent Carruthers.

To my very great disappointment, they were not whistling rain frogs or alas, snoring puddle frogs.

South Africa is a wonderland of frogs, with nearly 120 described species. They are marvellously beautiful, grotesque and just plain weird in form (my book has a colour photograph of each 1). But what I dearly love are their names.

When I got home, I pored over the book with a screen image of the Springfontein farm frogs before me.

Well, they definitely weren’t shovel-footed squeakers, nor were they any of those otherworldly ghost frogs. They weren’t bubbling kassinas or a delicate leaf-folding frogs. To my very great disappointment, they were also not whistling rain frogs or alas, snoring puddle frogs.

Nor, judging by their restrained croaking, were they guttural or raucous toads.

Despite their intricate patterning, they weren’t even ornate frogs. To my amazement, I identified them at last as common river frogs.

Three in a row. These frogs were very sociable. Photo Chris Marais

Common river frogs? Was this really the best name frog people could come up with? These creatures were gorgeous – powerful, shiny, intricately patterned, yet delicate. Their eyes were bejewelled works of art. They deserved a better name than common river frog.

The book also told me that these frogs breed ‘in slowly flowing streams or other permanent bodies of water, favouring those with aquatic vegetation. Often encountered on riverbanks during the night and day.’
And then, the giveaway sentence: ‘Readily jumps into the water if disturbed and escapes beneath the bottom litter.’

I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed being around frogs.

Poised to jump back into the pond if I came a step closer. Photo Chris Marais

Category: Wildlife

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