How should a frog die?
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 whole.
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.
by Nicholas C. Moore Jr.
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