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The Chronicles of The Frogs: The Shed Frogs, Part Two

By Samantha Verdi ‘23

 

This article is a part of the "Wild New Jersey" Series, a column about  nature by Samantha Verdi '23. For reference see previous articles:

On March 30, 2020, the first frog appeared. It was Angus! One by one, the frogs appeared: Yoda on April 13, Munchkin on April 15, A new frog I named Aphrodite on April 21, and Thora on  May 1. Aphrodite was the same size as Yoda and Munchkin, and had an unusual heart marking on her back. Now there were a total of five frogs in the shed so I added another water dish which the frogs used right away. Usually one frog is in or near the water dish when I open the shed.

For some reason, Angus disappeared on May 1st when Thora showed up and has not been back since.

But of course, they emerged in the year 2020. So it was safe to already assume that this summer of frogs was going to get really crazy.

And it was. 

The black rat snake gaining access to the shed. Photo by Samantha Verdi '23.

July 26 was not a good day for me or the frogs. I was away from the house when I got a call from my mom that she saw a snake slithering out the top of the shed through the main gap the frogs use to get in and out of the shed. I quickly returned home to learn that the only frogs my mom could rescue from the shed were Thora and Hermes (another frog, a whole different story). She chased the snake away and showed me a picture of it. I identified it as a black rat snake. They are a climbing species of snake that eat frogs, toads, mice, and small animals or birds. The rest of the day I debated where to relocate the two remaining frogs, and I realized there was no place to put them except back in the shed or near it. Frogs can become lost if they are taken away from a place they call home. This decision became clear as I approached the shed at sunset and saw a couple frogs staring at me from the high branches of the big tree that overhangs the shed. I put everything back into the shed and saw Aphrodite climbing on the outside of the shed towards the gap they use to get in. Without hesitation, Thora and Hermes jumped from my hand onto the shed and also headed towards the gap. I opened the door and put them in their water dish I had refilled and saw Yoda on the hockey stick that is propped up on the inner wall of the shed. Munchkin was on the wood fence in back of the shed. All the frogs were accounted for except for Angus, who had been missing for almost 3 months at that point. To ward off the snake, I took a wild turkey feather I found in the woods nearby and taped it to the side of the shed near the gap. I hoped if the snake came back it would smell a dangerous turkey and slither away. The frogs also touch that feather on their way out of the shed every night and would carry the scent of a wild turkey. It must have worked because I did not see the black rat snake again all summer.

For most of the summer, I stayed up all night to see what the frogs do at night. Thora liked to use the fence behind the shed to hunt for crickets, but sometimes she went into the two trees that overhang the shed and fence. The three little frogs use the fence to get to the two trees. There are stacks of cinder blocks and bricks next to the shed where crickets and sprickets (spider crickets) live. I realized the frogs strategically decided to live in a solid structure (shed) with a food source (crickets), water source (water dish), and an elevated platform, and used the fence to travel around the yard to get to trees without touching the ground.

However, after the black rat snake incident, I saw the frogs less and less in the shed. Thora decided to live in an old woodpecker hole in a nearby oak tree and would occasionally visit the shed. Munchkin altogether disappeared, Yoda returned twice in September, Aphrodite returned to the shed at times, and Angus never returned. A new frog named Wren appeared in the shed in August and was a regular visitor for the rest of the summer.

I found it interesting to watch how Thora hunted in trees; she pounces on her prey similar to a cat. When Thora hunts on the

Thora on the Fourth of July, 2020. Photo by Samantha Verdi '23

Thora on the Fourth of July, 2020. Photo by Samantha Verdi '23

fence, she sits on one of the horizontal beams near the ground and waits for a bug to pass in front of her so she can pounce. One time, while she was fence hunting, a garter snake slithered up to her. It looked too small to eat her, but I still shooed it away and relocated Thora on the higher part of the fence. Garter snakes are terrestrial ground dwelling snakes and are typically not the best climbers, so putting Thora in a high place was the safe thing to do. 

In September, the three little frogs, Yoda, Aphrodite, and Munchkin turned one year old. I did not know a year back that this was significant in telling their gender until one day I picked up Aphrodite and out of nowhere she stared croaking at me. Only male frogs can croak (yes, Angus has croaked at me before). That meant Aphrodite was male which was also confirmed by her throat color turning darker. I changed his name to Cupid accordingly. Thora also returned to the shed in September and stayed there, having moving out of her woodpecker-hole summer home. 

Seeing the life of a group of wild frogs (a group of frogs is called an army) has opened up the view in which I see nature and animals. Now when I look at a forest, I see the frogs climbing on the branches, hunkering down in their homes during storms, pouncing on bugs, and judgmentally staring at the humans that try to study them. 

Thora was the last frog to leave the shed and entered hibernation on October 28th 2020.

In the meantime, I am documenting everything that's happened with the frogs in the book I am writing and I am looking forward to see who comes out of hibernation first this spring and when that will be!

References (in addition to the writer's observations):

NJ Fish & Wildlife: https://www.njfishandwildlife.com/ensp/pdf/frogs.pdf

Smithsonian: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/gray-tree-frog

Indiana.gov: https://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3341.htm

Schalk Lab: https://cmschalk.weebly.com/copes-gray-and-gray-treefrog.html

Tennessee.gov: https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/amphibians/frogs-and-toads/gray-treefrog.html

Minnesota dept of natural resources: gray.html

Wildlife Guide of NJ: http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/species/fieldguide/view/Hyla%20chrysoscelis/

Pbs: https://nhpbs.org/natureworks/graytreefrog.htm

University of Georgia: https://srelherp.uga.edu/anurans/hylchr.htm

NJ.gov: https://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/end-thrtened/sograytreefrog.pdf