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My Big Fat Bullfrogs

Jul 21, 2008

Those loud, belching-croak sounds coming from my pond suggest an army of bullfrogs has appeared out of nowhere. I never really thought much about bullfrogs beyond enjoying their loud calls and an occasional taste of frog legs. But when I called Jeff Briggler, our Missouri Department of Conservation herpetologist, he said the “army” most likely spent the winter right there in the muddy pond bottom.

bullfrogNow they should be scattered like sentries guarding their territories around the edge. Occasionally a fight will break out when two equal-size bullfrogs meet at their territory borders. Though Jeff hasn’t seen such an event himself, he has heard that they push, shove and grapple with each other like sumo wrestlers. What an image…

Since bullfrogs are the biggest frogs in North America, growing to more than a pound, they’re the sumo bodies of our frog world, too. (The green frog, which looks similar to bullfrogs, are about half their size and overwinter under rocks in creeks and springs instead of in the mud of pond and lakes.)

Another thing that surprised me (besides the sumo-wrestling image) was that bullfrogs can live up to 10 years. And they take 18 months just to transform from a tadpole into adult frog. That’s a big difference from other frogs that can make the change in just three weeks. So you won’t find bullfrogs using those little spring pools of water that dry up quickly—they need steady water year round. The many ponds Missourians have built over the years created some great bullfrog habitat. Jeff mentioned that bullfrogs historically were in the woodlands of eastern North America. People moved them farther west, where they actually outcompete the more native frogs.

I asked if the best time to hear and see them (with flashlight in hand) is just after dark, but even though they’ll call in the evening, the best time to hear them may be in the darkness before morning light, maybe 4 a.m. I think I’d still settle for the evening chorus myself. If you want more than just a sight and sound—if you’d like a taste of frog—the frogging season opened June 30 at sunset and runs until Oct. 31. They really do taste a bit like chicken.

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