By Charlotte Owen
Frogs have spent the winter in hiding. They are surprisingly hardy little creatures but don’t cope well with frost and ice, so they seek out a sheltered spot where they will be protected from the worst of the weather and safe from hungry predators. Frogs will often burrow into compost heaps, hide amongst rotting wood, crawl under slabs or sit on the bottom of the pond, where they settle down for a long sleep on a deep bed of mud, absorbing oxygen from the water through their skin.
Their reappearance is one of the earliest signs of spring, and January sightings are increasingly common. It all depends on the weather and one of the best predictors of frog activity is overnight temperature. Generally, a run of several consecutive nights with a temperature above 5°C will trigger the annual anuran awakening, as frogs, toads and newts all shake off their slumber and start heading back to the water.
Their irresistible urge to return to the life aquatic heralds the imminent arrival of frogspawn season, arguably one of the most exciting events in nature’s calendar. Ponds across the county will soon be filling up with an army of amorous frogs, and in this case love can be a battleground. The males usually arrive first, each keen to claim a prime pond-side location. Their soft, insistent croaking is more of a purr than a ‘ribbit’ and is quite pleasant to human ears. To another frog though, it sends a completely different signal. Males croak at each other in a vocal battle of intimidation, similar to the way that stags bellow at each other during the rut. Rivals listen keenly to judge whether to take a chance or keep their distance. Meanwhile, the croaking sends a different signal to arriving females, who are greeted by a sea of potential mates singing a resplendent frog chorus. Some males manage to intercept a female before she even reaches the pond and will piggyback the rest of the way. This doesn’t always guarantee success and multiple males may follow suit, each striving to dislodge his competitors and contribute to the next generation.