Updated: Oct 5
"Do frogs hibernate?"
This simple question took me down a literal rabbit hole of information. Did you know there are more than 6,000 species of frogs, and they date back 265 million years? I sure didn’t. My knowledge of these little amphibians went only so far as their magical symphony which lulls me to sleep on warm spring nights. Every time I spotted one in and amongst my lettuce leaves, I was delighted, taking it as a sure sign my garden was healthy. But I really didn't know much more than that. What I knew, I learned in my grade school science class: they absorb water through their skin, and a group of frogs is called an ‘army’. Trust me, the rest was all new.
Here is a short rundown of some facts (there are many, many more) I learned while doing my research on frog hibernation:
They live all over the world except Antarctica because it is simply too cold.
They have the largest brain-to-body ratio of the amphibians, making them the Einsteins of that class.
Their noses are located on top of their heads along with their protruding eyes which can rotate almost fully around.
Their diet consists of anything that fits in their mouths, primarily bugs, spiders, worms, slugs, larvae and sometimes small fish.
Although it may seem there is no shortage of frogs in the world, there are some that are endangered.
The ‘Goliath Frog’ is the largest in the world and can be found in West Africa. They can grow up to a foot long which I can attest to as I’ve seen them myself – I was raised on the west coast of Liberia. The smallest frog is the gold frog, coming in no bigger than a dime when fully grown.
A frog completely sheds its skin about once a week. After it pulls of the old, dead skin, the frog usually eats it. I was not as impressed with this particular detail as my son who thought it was “epic”.
Before, I couldn’t really tell the difference between a frog and a toad. But now I know they have a few distinct differences. Frogs have teeth and are linked to water, while toads have no teeth and are always on dry land. Also, frogs have a smooth, slimy exterior, whereas toads have a dry, bumpy surface. The belief that a toad can give you warts is a myth, as the bumps are not warts. They are ‘parotid glands’ that secrete a neurotoxin making them taste quite foul when a predator tries to eat them.
All things considered, these agile amphibians are best left alone. Their skin and urine can carry bacteria and parasites, including salmonella. Although some frogs are poisonous, more often, it is the frog peeing on your hand that makes you think it’s poisonous. This is a common defense mechanism. But even urine can still be harmful to us humans, and some frogs do secrete toxins from their skin. The Golden Poison Frog is the size of a paperclip and weighs less than one ounce, but the venom it produces can kill up to ten men. The bright coloured frogs are the ones that tend to be poisonous as it is a way to warn predators that their skin is toxic.
North America is home to more than 100 frogs (and toads) and 25 of them reside in Canada. All fairly harmless when you compare them to the ones residing in South America, Australia and Africa. Here, frogs provide a level of diversity to your garden and is just what you need to control unwanted insects like the mosquito, flies, beetles, grubs and slugs. One frog can eat over 100 insects in just one night.
So, my original question: do frogs hibernate? Yes, they do! Aquatic frogs keep warm by burrowing down into oxygen rich bodies of water. Others, like the Wood Frog settle deep under leaf or bark litter which provides insulation from freezing temperatures. Once you reach sub-zero conditions (as low as -5˚C), tiny crystals form in the body, freezing roughly 40% of its fluids. At this point, the frog is no longer breathing and there’s no blood circulating through the body because there is no heartbeat. But once spring comes along, the frog thaws and hops away.
This little sweetheart is considered a totem for metamorphosis, symbolic to entering one’s creative and intuitive power. Because of the connection to water, there is also a strong link to lunar energies. The spring and summer are when you hear their familiar croak, calling lovers, marking territory and warning predators. They have been known to be omens for prosperity and fecundity. Many shamanic societies – especially North and South American – connect the frog with precipitation and the control of weather. It is said their voices call forth the rains. And so, in honour of the magnificent creature, I end this blog with a very wise journal passage from one of my personal heroes, Henry David Thoreau, a philosopher, naturalist, and poet.
“Can you ever be sure that you have heard
the very first wood frog in the township croak?
Ah! how weather-wise must he be!
There is no guessing at the weather with him.
He makes the weather in his degree; he encourages it to be mild.
The weather, what is it but the temperament of the earth?
and he is wholly of the earth,
sensitive as its skin in which he lives and of which he is a part.
His life relaxes with the thawing ground.
He pitches and tunes his voice to chord with the rustling leaves
which the March wind has dried.
Long before the frost is quite out,
he feels the influence of the spring rains and the warmer days.
His is the very voice of the weather.
He rises and falls like quicksilver in the thermometer.”
- March 24th, 1859