Red-legged Frog Life
As the sun sets or when the fog remains and the air is cool, from the cattail reeds around still ponds, out come frogs with yellow-sunspot heads and bright red legs. They jump, arcing across the water and landing. They cruise around, triangle heads sticking up, eyes shining like stars on the water. These are threatened California red-legged frogs. A group of us, of all ages, saw them on Save the Frogs Day. If more people could view these sights, then more would be inspired to save frogs.
Normally a birder, I was terrible at spotting frogs! I learned to look for triangle-shaped heads and bulbous eyes. I only saw the red-legged frog when it jumped--as if it had been walking on water! It was as fantastic as any bird I'd ever seen taking off. It was a sizable jump since red-legged frogs are the largest native frog in the U.S. at 2-5 inches. I also learned that along with the unusual colors, I could identify the frog by the two ridges on its back. The ridges are key for identification, since sometimes the colors aren't too visible as in the muddy colors in our photographs.
Red-legged frogs need ponds or other slow-moving water where they can find nearby grasses for cool shade. They are endemic or native to California but don't prefer its hotter temperatures. On a guided walk, we were able to find them close to the ocean in Pacifica.
But they've become listed as threatened. Gold miners in the 1800s ate tens of thousands as food. Non-native bullfrogs hunted many of the rest. Now constant building of homes in picturesque wetland areas (frogs in their habitat shown below) threatens their homes.
The latest devastating plight taking place locally is a golf course called Sharp Park, a complex issue well-described by Save the Frogs. In summary, pumps that drain rain water in the poorly designed course rip away and dry out eggs that the frogs carefully place on reed grasses. This unthinking act can kill a future generation of baby frogs in an instant. For San Francisco Bay Area residents, find a petition and pdf signs on the link listed above! See a photo of the pump and grasses below.
If you want to read literature about red-legged frogs, find the Mark Twain story, "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." This lauded amphibian is indeed the red-legged frog, not the American bullfrog. Sadly, it is thought that there are no longer any red-legged frogs left in the wild in this county in California. However, the red-legged frog has been named California's official state amphibian!
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