By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
Kermit the Frog, Muppet philosopher and foil for Miss Piggy, has been quoted as saying, “It hard to be green.” It does not take much imagination to appreciate the potential multiple meanings of this statement.
Political and environmental sustainability implications aside, a straight forward interpretation of the statement reveals an obvious truth. The existence of tiny green creatures is challenging at best.
In reality many of the frogs in Wakulla County come in a variety of earth tones and patterns which are useful for camouflage. This ability to blend into the scenery is a key component of survival of their species.
These mostly native amphibian creatures are found in every local environment and have been placed into three categories based on their habitat. This term has its origins in Greek with the meaning “both kinds of life” and indicate the ability live on land and in water.
All of Florida’s 27 native frog species live in north Florida. Many have adapted to human habitation and can be found around houses and buildings.
These frogs are generally classified as arboreal, aquatic or terrestrial. Some of the terrestrial frogs are identified as toads.
Arboreal frog species live in trees or bushes and have noticeably enlarged toe-pads. Their suction cupped toes give them the ability to be excellent climbers with the ability to successfully leap impressive distances.
Aquatic frog species spend the majority of their lives in water. Most have well developed toe webbing for efficient swimming, but they are still capable of remarkable jump.
Terrestrial frogs live on dry ground under plants, logs or other cover with most species burrowing in loose soil. These frogs and toad often have dry, lumpy skin.
With one exception, any of the native frogs will be found around water, where their eggs are laid during breeding season. This normally begins in March and tapers off in September.
Hatching produces a tadpole which has the appearance of a small fish. With a tail for propulsion, no legs for hopping and only gills to breathe in the water, it lives on plant material until its metamorphous changes everything.
A conversion worthy of the most creative science fiction writer totally converts the animal. It changes body shape, replaces gills with lungs, grows legs while absorbing its tail and transform from an herbivore to a carnivore.
Frogs are primarily predators in their environment. Insects, worms, snails and in some cases other frogs are all menu options.
While some frogs use their front legs to grasp prey, others make a lightning quick strikes with their sticky tongues. These ambushes are particularly effective on flying insects such as moths and mosquitoes.
As part of the food chain, these diminutive hunter are also ceaselessly hunted by larger animals. Depending on the location, almost every creature will snack on frogs, including people, if given the opportunity.
Fortunately, their high reproduction rate and quick growth and development assure a steady stream of replacements. Drought years will see fewer frogs and toad being produce because there are fewer places for tadpoles to develop.
While it may be hard to be green, Florida’s frogs are up to the challenge.