How to find flighty frogs

The common frog is the only species of frog found in Ireland and is listed as an internationally important species, writes Donal Hickey.

In times of hard winters, frogs spawn in February and March. However, like many other aspects of nature being affected by climate change, they have been spawning much earlier during recent, mild winters.

This year, the first report of frog spawn was received by the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, on January 1, from the nature reserve in Glengarriff, Co Cork, while reports of adult frogs and spawn were also sent from counties Kilkenny and Kildare.

Wetlands provide homes for many of our frog populations and, on World Wetlands Day, February 2, the council celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Hop To It Frog Survey. Since 1997, it has received almost 5,000 frog records from around Ireland and 158 last year.

Including sightings of frog spawn, tadpoles, froglets and adult frogs, such records are important as they show changes in frog population and provide other valuable information about our most common amphibian. Land drainage has impacted on the animal’s habitat, while roadkill is another issue.

As youngsters, we were in the habit of collecting frog spawn and putting it into jam jars, buckets and the like, in the hope of breeding our own frogs, but that practice is now illegal as frogs are protected under EU and Irish wildlife legislation.

Teachers however, are allowed to use the spawn for educational purposes, but are asked to minimise amounts taken. Masses of spawn are produced, which is necessary as a great proportion of it just dies. Eggs laid as spawn gradually turn into tadpoles which, in turn, become young frogs.

The common frog is the only species of frog found in Ireland and is listed as an internationally important species. Its body is well adapted to life on land and water. Large eyes bulging out of the top of the head enables the frog to keep a sharp lookout for food and danger. A frog’s hind legs are very muscular which helps it swim in the water and jump on land. Nostrils in front of the eyes are used by frogs to breathe when they are on land. Under water, they breathe through their skin. Skin colour and markings vary enormously and the colourful patterns on its skin help to disguise the frog from predators such as rats, herons and hedgehogs.

A frog can also make its skin become darker to match its surroundings. This colour change takes about two hours. Frogs feed on slugs, insects, worms, spiders and similar prey. In winter, they hide in frost-free refuges, under tree stumps, in stacks of turf, or in rock piles where they rest easily until the following spring or in January, as has been happening.

The council is asking people to forward frog records, in 2017. Sightings can be recorded at www.ipcc.ie/help-ipcc/hop-to-it-national-frog-survey-irelandcard/ 

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