Bleary eyed, I stagger into the kitchen shortly after sunrise to make the first of around seven mugs of tea I will drink today. While the kettle’s boiling I stand at the window, scanning the garden for signs of life. Attila the Bun dozes peacefully in his hutch, and elsewhere things appear equally tranquil. And then I spot a commotion in the pond. In one corner the water’s churning madly, wavelets rippling out from the boiling epicentre to the edge of the pool. This can mean only one thing: the mating frenzy of the frogs has begun.
This is an unexpected development. Croaking is a sure sign that the mating game is about to begin, but so far this year I’ve not heard any. However, after a wretched few weeks the weather’s got milder over the last couple of days, and maybe this has persuaded my amphibian friends that it’s time to do the business.
On closer inspection there’s already one clump of spawn floating listlessly at the edge of the pond, and several frogs are clearly intent on making more. There are at least two pairs, the males clinging on tightly to the backs of their chosen ladies – a condition known as amplexus – as they paddle and skitter around. Both parties are waiting for just the right moment.
However, the right moment can be a long time coming – amplexus has been known to last up to 24 hours – and to help them maintain their grip, male frogs grow special nuptial pads on their forelegs during the mating season. It locks the lovers together like organic Velcro. Inseparable, insatiable, their lust renders them oblivious to the world around them. I watch, transfixed, like a punter at a seedy porn show.
Finally the female is ready and expels her eggs, which the male swiftly fertilises. When spawn is laid it absorbs water rapidly, causing it to swell. In its expanded state spawn is 99.7 water, which helps regulate temperature and oxygen supply to the embryos.
Having laid and fertilised the spawn, the frogs’ work is over for the year and they can start enjoying the good things in life, like snacking on worms, slugs and sundry creepy-crawlies. My work, however, has just begun. We have two ponds in our garden. The larger of the two – where the spawn has been laid, and further spawning is imminent – is home to shoals of goldfish and golden rudd, which will make short work of the tadpoles when they emerge.
The smaller pond was put in with the specific intention of serving as a tadpole nursery every spring. However the “taddy pool,” as we like to call it, has attracted a population of Common Newts. While it’s thrilling to have these critters in our garden, they too will make mincemeat of tadpoles in the confined space of the taddy pool. So, if the spawn is going to produce any frogs, I will have to remove it to raise in a place of safety.
In a corner of the garage is a large fish tank, half buried under a pile of rubbish that I really should take to the local tip before Mrs P starts giving me grief. I fight my way through the detritus of 21st century living, retrieve the tank, dust it down, then fill it with water and assorted vegetation from the pond. Within minutes it is transformed into a safe haven where the tadpoles can hatch and grow, happily out of the reach of the predators that patrol our ponds.
When their legs start to develop and they’re able to look after themselves I’ll release the froglets back into the taddy pool and let them take their chance. Hopefully some will survive long enough to join the mating frenzy in future years.
I’ve always been fascinated by frogs, and have become increasingly dismayed by their plight. Frogs are currently in big trouble, thanks to a combination of climate change, habitat loss, pollution and a fungal disease known as red-leg. They need all the help they can get and I’m pleased that, within the limitations of our modest suburban garden, we’re doing our bit to ensure the survival of these wonderful little creatures.