Frogspawn in an Irish pond

As a child I spent endless hours exploring the shallows and periphery of a nearby lake, peering into one mysterious microhabitat after another. Between the house and the lake lies a pond whose gentler motions foster a different kind of local ecology. For example, every spring the pond plays host to masses of frogspawn that grow gradually and perilously into tadpoles, tailed froglets, and finally (if they’re very lucky) adult frogs.

The Common frog (Rana temporaria) is one of Ireland’s three amphibious animals, along with the Natterjack toad and Common newt; all are protected species. Ireland’s frogs appear to have a unique lineage, and despite their vulnerability they may even have survived the last Ice Age. If so, they were probably helped by their ability to breathe through their skin: this allows them to hibernate at the bottom of a pond or in a deep layer of mud.

On a visit to the countryside last weekend, I was delighted to see the local frogs tending to a prodigious clump of spawn that floated serenely at the side of the pond in the early morning sun:

View downward at part of a still pond, with clumps of low reeds and grasses in the foreground and masses of frogspawn amidst and just beyond them. At the top can be seen the reflections of trees on the pond surface.

A close-up of the same scene, with frogspawn now dominating the image: a dense grey cluster with a few reeds and grasses among and around it.

Closer again, the photo is now filled with frogspawn, and the black dots of life in their centres can be clearly seen.

Closer again, here the clumps of frogspawn bulge up over the surface of the water, and the black dots' irregular shapes can be made out.

One particular clump of frogspawn is in focus here, bulging over the pond surface. A couple of reeds stand up behind it.

In the middle of the photo, completely surrounded by masses of frogspawn, lies a frog, its head peering up out of the water: brown on top, white underneath.

Close-up of the frog, its head in half-profile, looking left. The sun lights up its face, which looks watchful but serene.

Two frogs, one on either side of the photo, rest in the water, their heads half out of the pond, their legs dangling visibly below. Frogspawn is all around them.

Not everyone appreciates the appeal of these slippery clusters of jellied life, and I know people who would be deeply uncomfortable looking at these photos. But despite its superficial unattractiveness (eyeball soup, anyone?), I find it beautiful in an otherworldly sort of way.

[more nature photos]

20 Responses to Frogspawn in an Irish pond

  1. paperstew says:

    Frogspawn, a sure sign of spring!
    Great images!

  2. Grandad says:

    Normally they spawn in my pond on the night of February 14th [draw any conclusions you like!], but this year, the spwn didn’t appear until the begining of March. It has been a very hard winter for wildlife, and it’s lovely seeing the signs of spring at last.

  3. Stan says:

    paperstew: Thank you! A sure sign indeed, and a very welcome one after a tough winter for Irish critters.

    Grandad: Yes, it gladdened my heart to see the spawn and other signs of spring. It felt as though nature were finally recovering after months of injury. February 14? They probably take their cue from yourself.

  4. What a glorious sight Stan. Spring is truly on its way!

  5. Those photos are great! They could be the many eyes of some water-dwelling monster, of course… Will we be getting updates of activity at the Froggy Rotunda?

  6. Stan says:

    Glorious is the word, Jams. Spring has been slow off its frozen feet, but it’s all the more welcome because of what came before it.

    Doubtful: Thanks! You’re right, the frogspawn looks like it could be a many-eyed monster — some kind of mellow freshwater leviathan. Froggy updates are uncertain, but I’ve asked local parties to take regular photos if possible.

  7. wisewebwoman says:

    Why in God’s name does this all remind me of the revolting tapioca pudding I was forced to ingest as a cailin?

  8. Stan says:

    WWW: Maybe because the frogspawn looks like tapioca (albeit larger and without the milkiness)? I imagine their textures are quite similar too. This occurred to me while I was on the bank having a look at it, and when I posted the photos I was curious to see whether someone would mention tapioca. I hope the force-feeding didn’t affect your feelings for frogs…

  9. Sean Jeating says:

    Ah, this – so to speak – let my heart jump like a happy frog. And the photos: Great, Stan!

    Like described by Grandad, in our neck of the woods due to the unusual strong and long winter the frogs are late. Still, along their annual routes the guards/safety fences* are already installed. May the croaking wanderers safely reach their destination.

    * In case you don’t have them in Ireland: During the frogs’ wandering-period in Germany, along roads they would have to cross, safety fences get installed, so that as few wanderers as possible may run the risk of getting killed (by cars). Each morning, volunteers would come, collect the amphibias behind the fences and in buckets would give them a lift to the other side of the street.

  10. Tim says:

    I heard frogs frequently during the summer I once spent out in the countryside in South Korea. They called them “kegori”, after the supposed sound they make.

    Here in Japan, “kaeru” tend to spawn in the rice paddies, which are filled with water during the spring. You can hear their frogsong as you pass by and if you are willing to stop and stoop, you can even spot the little critters swimming or hopping around, somewhat camouflaged by their habitat.

  11. Claudia says:

    Beautiful sight, Stan! I don’t even want to think that les cuisses de la grenouille are a delicacy in France. (It must be why, sometimes, the French are called Frogs?) Thanks for the links. Frogs have a rugged, interesting ugliness, and a fascinating lifestyle. With all the dangers around them, you wonder how they manage to survive, and to breed. What people are doing in Germany to prevent roadkill is so kind. Humans impress me, at times.
    Did you ever hear a bullfrog?

  12. Stan says:

    Sean: I’m hoppy to hear it! Here’s hoping your local frogs recover from the extended winter, and resume their cycle without incurring too many losses. I don’t think we have any such safety fences here, though I’ve heard of similar strategies elsewhere for other forms of wildlife trying to cross motorways. But Ireland barely has enough safe crossing places for humans, let alone frogs.

    Tim: Thanks for sharing the charming Korean and Japanese words for frogs. Both are quite similar to Kermit, at least superficially! I think that if I were walking near a rice paddy and heard frogsong, I would find somewhere comfortable to stop and listen for a while. I might even join in the chorus.

    Claudia: ‘Frogs have a rugged, interesting ugliness, and a fascinating lifestyle.’ You put it very well. Little wonder they are so popular in children’s stories and folk tales. They are sensitive creatures, and the ceaseless and senseless barrage of human pollution has made their lives very difficult. Their procreative strategy reminds me of a fish’s: lay enough eggs and a few will survive. Like you I was cheered by Sean’s report of human kindness towards them. But why French people are sometimes called frogs is a mystery to me; there seem to be several hypotheses.

  13. Claudia says:

    Thanks for the fascinating link. Actually, I never minded being called a Frog, unless it was in anger, to put me down. But I heard the French word Crapaud, for toad, used somehow as an insult. It means someone devious and tricky. I guess it comes from the fact that toads, like frogs, survived by hiding, changing colours, and tolerating harsh environments. In a way, it’s an enviable trait.

  14. Fran says:

    Do you know the Seamus Heaney poem ‘Death of a Naturalist’ about this very topic? You have to read it.

  15. Stan says:

    Claudia: Funny how people refer to animals in order to insult other people. If I were an animal…

    Fran: I do, and I have, but I had completely forgotten it! Here it is. Thank you for reminding me.

    The great slime kings / Were gathered there for vengeance…

  16. Claudia says:

    Wow! The Heaney poem was a bit hard reading but somehow naturalism should be taught to humans without specimens in jars…Why do I feel that the animal kingdom has often a laugh at our expense?

    I might have left the following poem, in a blog, somewhere. Please, allow me to rewrite it here.

    FORGIVENESS (W.H.Davies)

    Stung by a spiteful wasp
    I let him go life free
    That proved the difference in him and me.
    For, had I killed my foe
    It had proved me at once
    the stronger wasp
    and no more difference.

    I’m listening now to frogsongs from Quebec, enjoying immensely my return home and to childhood. Thanks again for your marvellous post.

  17. Stan says:

    You’re very welcome, Claudia, and thank you for Davies’ poem. Naturalist poetry and frogsong make a fine combination! It’s difficult to teach children about nature when so many of them live in built-up urban environments that contain only isolated (and often artificial) pockets of it. I don’t envy children raised in the city, despite its many conveniences, especially those from families with few opportunities to take regular trips to the countryside to experience rural life in all its humming chirping buzzing croaking wonder. And the less said about the lectures I took in practical zoology, the better.

  18. Stan says:

    Claudia: I’ve never heard bullfrogs in situ — only on television, radio or the internet. (Sorry I forgot to answer this earlier!)

  19. Scott says:

    I have a question: BTW Neat pictures and interesting story. I have a similar pond that sits just across a road from a larger lake. I have always wondered what the various sounds coming from t during warm spring nights, but not excluded from days) The sounds are deafening at times, and can best be descibed as chirps and gurgles. I was once told that they were peepers…whatever they might be. Any answers would be most appreciated. Please send answers to thanks in advance.

  20. Stan says:

    Any ideas I have would be guesses at best, Scott. For one thing, I don’t know what your local fauna are. The chirps and gurgles could well come from frogs, especially if the sound was intense a few weeks ago but subsequently died down. Peepers are a kind of tree frog that work up quite a chorus during the mating season.

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