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:
Not everyone appreciates the appeal of these slippery clusters of jellied life. I know people who would be deeply uncomfortable about looking at this set of photos, not to mention running a finger through actual frogspawn. But despite its superficial unattractiveness (eyeball soup, anyone?), I find it beautiful in an otherworldly sort of way.