19 February 2012

Of frogs and eyes and pobblebonks

This has been the summer of frogs. This little tree frog was outside the window last night. Through its translucent skin, its heart rate could be seen as easily as the joints in its toes. On the veranda, two other tree frogs were hunting moths. When a dung beetle flew in, it was grabbed so fast I never saw the mouth of the frog open. But I did see the beetle dragged, its leg clamped in the frog's mouth, and the frog backing into the shadows. Was the beetle et? That will remain a mystery. The beetle was almost as large as the frog, whose eyes, being a frog's, were almost as large as its stomach. The gulp, with the frog's eyes pushing down the beetle—if this is, in fact, a frog whose eyes retract—would have been quite a sight.

Robert P. Levine, Jenna A. Monroy, and Elizabeth L. Brainerd must have many happy hours in their lives, due to their dedicated observations. They are the authors of "Contribution of eye retraction to swallowing performance in the northern leopard frog, Rana pipiens", in The Journal of Experimental Biology, March 15, 2004.

As to species, this is the best part of nature for amateurs like me. It gives us great excuses to buy guide books; and no matter how many we have, they are never enough. I can tell you with assurance that the frog above is not a Peron's tree frog, whose belly is merely 'smooth'. And I think that the two hunters on the veranda were Tyler's tree frogs, the larger one with the aspirational appetite being the female, and the small thin one the colour of a cucumber that is left too long and gone yellow, being the male in "breeding colouration". I hope I'm right, partly because their other name is Southern Laughing Tree Frog. The thing is, if this is true, then the female has been visiting on her own for weeks, pretending to be a Peron's.

But if only you could have been with me a day ago, when we both could not have seen but heard — a pobblebonk. Like some people, you don't have to see a pobblebonk to know it's unmistakably there. But a pobblebonk is a treat to hear.

And I highly recommend this dramatic feast for all toad lovers. This is one of my favourite passages in literature, so much so that I've made it a feature in my Virtuous Medlar Circle amongst the classics to enjoy rather than think you should have read:
Martha, Jane, and Babbette, a true story from A Farmer's Year by H. Rider Haggard


kiy1955 said...

To the stricken creature leaping along the inland highways of David Lynch this week this was most interesting and arrived right on time [grinSSsss]

THXXXxxXxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx!! !

anna tambour said...

and thank you for this marvelous picture of you, leaping along. I don't know if it's true, but if Lynch did once have a Wall Street Journal paper route, that would be a road worth investigating the paving of.

Adam Browne said...

wonderful post. We need a guide book for guide books - listing the various species - brightly coloured, firm spine, smooth front - the book's heart sometimes visible beating away bravely within...

anna tambour said...

"A guide book for guide books" — a brilliant idea. The definitive companion book.

I'll tell you about one that got away. Its spine said


I regret to this day that I was too timid to add:


(that was a self-indulgent aside)

Back to the project at hand
You are the perfect person to produce this most indispensible resourcebook. I fully expect the first edition of the Browne Guide without delay or demur, sir.

Adam Browne said...

indeed, I am away ahead of you, Ms Tambour, and am currently compiling a guidebook on guidebooks about guidebooks. I hope that will do for now.

anna tambour said...

indeed, I am way behind you, Mr Browne, so would you take my excuse that — instead of issuing you a prompt reply containing my sincere admiration for your concept and a demand to be satisfied with the guide in my hands in 14 days (or my great expectations back); which was what I meant to write as the tail of 23rd of Feb slipped over the horizon — instead, as I said, Time broke into my safe and stole my horde of excuses for slackness. Then Time kidnapped me. Today it's out rampaging somewhere so I slipped away, but with only a scrap of 'dog ate it' and a 'did it'. So instead, where's your bloody guidebook? Isn't it out yet?