The warm seasons bring rain, and the dead frogs follow. When the rain
begins, frogs litter the streets and sidewalks, hopping in front of
headlights. The morning after rain brings squashed frog carcasses all
over the pavement.
When they aren’t chasing the rain, they are desperate to be heard. From
the start of spring through early summer, they scream into the night,
looking for a mate.
Some of these frogs have chosen to centralize around my parents’ pool,
in the backyard of their house in rural northern Maryland. My dad
doesn’t always do a good job winterizing each year, and the frogs often
use the water to lay their eggs.
The first to sound off are the spring peepers. Smartly called chorus
frogs, they’re named after the sound they scream into the darkness. The
males yelp out their high-pitched “peep” in attempts to lure a mate,
becoming more aggressive the denser the population around them.
Usually just over an inch long, peepers have sticky feet they can use to
climb trees, though they spend a lot of time on the ground. They’re a
light brown that looks gray in the blinding summer sun, with an
X-Files style X on their backs and butter-yellow bellies. When my
brother and I would find them dancing around the pool, we’d force them
to sit on our hands and hang them upside down from our fingers,
affectionately nicknaming them “sticky frogs.” This horrified my mom,
who would beg us to return them to the grass near the woods.
She remains rather annoyed by the frogs. She still has no desire to
touch them, and their cries can be heard through her open windows. When
I call her during the summer, I can hear the frogs yelling in the
background. When she gets really bothered, she’ll snap: “Oh, can they
just fuck already?”
One summer before my dad chemicalized the pool, my brother and I scooped
tadpoles out of the water and brought them up to the house in a bucket.
Over days and weeks we watched as the sperm-like babies grew larger, and
then into awkward teens, with giant heads and legs jutting out of their
backs like two additional tails. Those legs began to bend and grow
strong feet, and then came tiny, T-rex-like arms. Then their long tails
were gone, bodies transformed, and we had miniature frogs in a miniature
aquarium right on the kitchen counter.
Plenty of the stolen tadpoles didn’t make it through to the final stage
of metamorphosis, but at the end of the experiment, my brother and I
were able to deliver about eight little frogs to the local stream.
It made sense, then, to drive a few miles away to release them into
natural water. Though they probably died quickly, unlikely to survive
the adjustment from their terrarium-sized ecosystem to the real world.
The next summer, when my dad began the process of opening the pool, my
brother and I once again nabbed a handful of tadpoles and brought them
up to the house. My mom put the tadpoles into the miniature aquarium,
which now housed a tiny box turtle my brother had bought while on a
beach vacation with the neighbors. Thinking of the turtle’s slow
reputation, she figured they would be fine to cohabitate. But box
turtles are omnivores. My mom had served this turtle both the greatest
challenge and the greatest meal of his young life. To her surprise,
instead of a peaceful introduction, the once lazy turtle swam at a speed
she didn’t think possible, hunting the tadpoles and swallowing them
Thus, a new experiment was born: bringing sacrifices, then watching the
turtle zip off his sitting rock and into the water, chasing his prey. It
took a few trips for us to become more conscious of the morbidity—the
turtle murdering what we had so painstakingly nurtured the year before.
This past summer, my mom asked my now grown brother to scoop another
handful of tadpoles from the pool for her to grow on the back porch in a
plastic storage container. Once again, the tadpoles metamorphosed into
tiny frogs. But not all of them—a few failed to grow their tiny legs,
dying as black lumps. Worse were those that couldn’t make the adjustment
from gills to lungs, drowning in the water that used to be their home.
Is it playing god? What right did we have to remove the frogs from their
habitat and put them under a Petri dish, feeding them leftover lettuce
and betta fish flakes?
But weren’t the odds stacked against them in the first place? Their
parents chose the pool as their pond, a terrible place to lay eggs. And
certainly almost all the tadpoles would have died in the chemicalization
process, poisoned or smothered as my dad drowned the green water with
chlorine and diatomaceous earth.
And is it better to let them grow, only for them to chase raindrops
across the pavement until they’re mashed between the gravel and a rubber
tire? Or get caught and drowned in the pool water under the solar cover?
But if there was no road, and there was no pool, there’d still be frogs.
Peepers only live 3 years, anyway. But if we’re playing god, must we do
it both so cruelly and so poorly?
Yet despite our divine intervention, every spring more frogs peep.
Julz Harvey is a writer living in the DMV with her three cats. She enjoys reading and making things, and has previously been published in Business Insider. She tweets @helloitsjulz.