The secret life of frogs

A tree frog

There is a secret frog club in our pond. Every night, these innocuous slimy amphibians sing until the sun comes up. And if I go out with a flashlight, they shut up. I canít find a single one of them.

If you havenít experienced the magical notes of tiny tree frogs, it sounds like a line of firetrucks parked outside your window.

Frogs are cold-blooded vertebrates that lack scales. They are amphibians that hatch in the water and start life as a swimming tadpole before developing into a land-hopping adult. Their skin is porous, allowing them to absorb water and oxygen through it. They are considered environmental indicators because their skin makes them especially sensitive to water contaminants, resulting in deformities or death.

They secrete mucus to maintain a slimy exterior that prevents them from drying out and regularly shed their skin to keep it healthy. Wetlands and retaining ponds are perfect environments for frogs, as well as ponds in your backyard.

Bullfrogs are large and loud and typically hang out near the shore. Their eyes reflect light, and a flashlight can give them away in the dark. A spotlight will even temporarily paralyze them. When my son was small, we would freeze them with the headlight on a utility vehicle and could even touch them. Bullfrogs will eat insects, salamanders, smaller frogs or just about anything they can fit in their mouths.

In the Lowcountry, tree frogs are about the size of a silver dollar but just as loud as a bullfrog. The green tree frog is commonly seen around the yard. Frequently, itís the male that sings to attract a female and does this during wet weather that favors egg-laying.

Tree frogs have sticky pads on their toes that allow them to climb almost any surface. Youíll find them clinging to a window, especially when itís raining. They often hang out where insects are plentiful, like near porch lights, leaving feces on the siding that can easily be washed off.

Frogs are not a pest, aside from the late-night partying. In fact, some people keep them as pets inside glass tanks. Some species of frogs can live several years or more in captivity. They are voracious insectivores. Even if you wanted to reduce their presence around your house, there are no products labeled for such an application. The frogs are around our house because of a small pond. If we eliminate the water, our frog dance club likely will relocate.

Toads

Toads are different from frogs. They have dry, coarse skin and spend all their time on the ground. And, no, they cannot give you warts. Only witches do that. However, if you pick up a toad, it will instantly urinate as a defensive mechanism.

Toads are known to excrete a mild toxin from glands behind their eyes. It is mild enough that it will not affect humans, although a dog will temporarily foam at the mouth if a toad is picked up, but it is not considered threatening.

Toad houses are popular garden art. Essentially theyíre small havens. Broken pots or half-buried coffee cans can serve as shelter, but moisture is the key component. We find toads tucked inside the stones of a small water feature every year.

Salamanders

Salamanders are amphibians that resemble lizards in size and shape but have the porous skin of a frog. Most are nocturnal, rarely seen during the day and live in wet environments.

They are not to be confused with skinks, which are lizards.

The spotted salamander is the official state amphibian, indigenous to South Carolina. Bet you didnít know that.

The University of Georgiaís Savannah River Ecology Laboratory has a great website that catalogs all the frogs in the Southeast, and you can even hear their songs, at http://srelherp.uga.edu.

And the Edisto Beach Serpentarium has everything youíd want to know about reptiles. Visit www.edisto serpentarium.com.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at tony.bertauski@tridenttech.edu.

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