Fazed By Frogs

Karen Radford Treanor 


Copyright 2022  by Karen Radford Treanor

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
 Photo courtesy of Pixabay.   


I was watering the potted plants last week when a small frog leaped out of the Hosta and clung to the inside of my wrist. It was a handsome little creature, beige with a darker brown mask across its eyes and trailing down its back. It was Litoria ewingi, I later discovered: the Southern Brown Tree frog. They eat mosquitoes, moths and flies, which makes them desirable garden guests.

Tasmania had been having an unusually prolonged period of dry, warm weather. Great weather for hanging out the wash; not such good weather for amphibians. All the usual damp pockets under the ferns and bushes have dried out, which explains why the tree frog was hiding in the Hosta. I slid my hand under the leaves and waited for my tiny passenger to hop off. His cool sticky feet stirred memories long dormant.

I recalled hearing the spring chorus from a New England swamp as a child. The singers were tiny froglets which we called 'spring peepers'. We also heard the occasional bullfrog. One summer my mother introduced me to a leopard frog she had caught in a beached rowboat at Lake Champlain. It was she who pointed out what beautiful eyes frogs have. Other than that, my acquaintance with frogs was rather casual until we moved to Mundaring, in the hills above Perth, Western Australia.

Nothing had prepared me for the frog orchestra in Mundaring. Some of the night noises were so odd that it was years before I discovered that they were in fact generated by frogs.

There were all sorts of noises emanating from the late winter and early spring puddles at the edge of the state forest. A few of them sounded like frogly noises, but most of them could have been inventions of the bloke who wrote the music for Doctor Who.

There was the noise that sounded like it came from a cigar-box banjo. That was the Banjo or Pobblebonk Frog, I learned from an artist friend who specialised in frogs.

There was the noise which sounded like a dove stuck on endless replay, which went on at all hours of the day and night. It drove my husband mad: there was something about the tone or resonance of the long low moans that irritated him beyond bearing. He used to go about the yard looking for the broken-record dove, intending to chase it away. When I mentioned the noise to a neighbour, she said it wasn't a dove, but a Moaning Frog in its burrow, calling for a mate. The males dig deep tunnels and lurk at the bottom, waiting for rain to make the excavation into a suitable nursery for tadpoles. In hot, dry Western Australia, this can mean a very long wait for the bachelor frogs, but the slightest hint of humidity sets off their love-lorn calling. You’d think they’d save their energy until genuine rain storms started.

"If I find it I will put a ferret down its burrow," said my distressed mate. "Or hot tea. Or--"

"Better not, apparently there's a very stiff fine for interfering with moaning frogs." I said, waving a leaflet from the Ministry for Critters and Woodsy Things. "Maybe we could relocate it."

Despite hours of searching, we never found the frog, but perhaps it overheard the threats, because it moved to a neighbour's yard where it wasn't as audible.

Then there was the night not long after we moved in that we heard an unearthly shrieking from the front yard. There's no way to describe it except to say that it would easily do for part of the sound track for Dante's Inferno if they ever make a film of it.

The piercing shriek got louder and louder. I took the torch and a stout stick and went out to investigate.

There under the box tree sat one of the cats, staring at a frog. The frog was staring right back and shrieking at the top of its lungs. The cat patted the frog: the frog shrieked and then jumped at the cat. The cat backed off and sat down, then hesitantly patted the frog again. The pat-shriek-jump business went on until I tired of watching and took the cat indoors.

The game of pat-the-frog was one of endless fascination for the young cat. She has never harmed the frogs, but apparently when she gets bored she seeks out one and pats it until it shrieks, just for fun. The frogs must not be good to eat, as I've never found a dead or injured one, and for sure the local magpies would have had a go if the creatures were tasty. Or perhaps they just don't want to get near that eardrum-piercing noise.

Then there was the night I was convinced there was a duck in distress in the woods. For some hours I'd been hearing a quack-quack-quack noise. I checked our ducks; both were in their pen asleep. Somebody else's duck was lost or hurt. This was in the days when we still had a resident fox in the neighbourhood, so I again armed myself with torch and stick and set off across the road, poking the bushes and calling for the duck. Of course, as soon as I arrived to rescue it, there was no sign of the errant waterfowl. I went back up the driveway and was almost indoors when the quack-quack-quack began again. Another trip to the roadside, another silence. I retired, baffled.

"If the dove was really a frog, maybe the duck is a frog also," suggested my husband,

"Don't be ridiculous, whoever heard of a quacking frog!" I snorted. Well, just about everybody, it turned out. At the library the next day I learned more about quacking frogs that I really wanted to know, and our librarians learned how truly dim I was when it came to local amphibia.

I reported back to my spouse: “I have now identified all the odd night noises on our street, bar one--and I'm not game to go back to the library and ask if they've ever heard of the Broken Air Conditioner Frog.”

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