Marsh Frogs: laughing all the way to the riverbank

21 May 2021 | Posted in Michael Blencowe , amphibian
Marsh Frogs: laughing all the way to the riverbank
Marsh frog © James Tomlinson

By Michael Blencowe 

Head of Community Action for Wildlife 

A summer evening stroll past the damper areas in the east of our county is not for the paranoid or insecure. You could be mistaken for thinking that the very marshes, ditches and ponds are mocking you as an incredible quacking, cackling chorus fills the air growing more and more hysterical. This is the song of the marsh frog.

The frogs, hidden from sight, inflate two vocal sacs making them look like they are blowing bubble-gum out of their ears. Guttural guffaws are amplified by these sacs and broadcast. Their loud laughter is contagious. Once one frog proudly proclaims his place in the pond with a raucous whoa-aa-aa-aa his neighbour is compelled to respond and soon the entire marsh is whoa-aa-aa-aa-ing like a bawdy comedy night at a working man’s club. Holding the title of Europe’s largest frog the marsh frog is 50% bigger than Britain’s native common frogs. Full grown adults are a reassuringly Kermit-like green.

Unlike our native frogs they never stray too far from water. Marsh frogs are either in it, on it or sat close to it. They are alert and wary and, as you approach, these acrobatic amphibians will launch themselves into the air and belly flop with a plop into the water. But sit still by the water’s edge and inquisitive bulging eyes will soon reappear at the surface. Their wariness is warranted. Herons, egrets and grass snakes prowl the ditches hoping for a frog in their throat.

Marsh frogs are only found in a few places in Britain and East Sussex is a hot spot for this cold-blooded animal. But they shouldn’t be here. These green-skinned aliens have been introduced by man. Or, to be more precise, Mr E.P Smith of Stone-in-Oxney, Kent. Mr Smith, Conservative MP for Ashford, seems to have had a very tolerant and progressive view towards immigration and released twelve of these Hungarian marsh frogs into his garden pond in 1935. It wasn’t long before the warty dozen had multiplied and, by the 1960s, all of neighbouring Romney Marsh rang with the sound of laughter.

From there it was just a short hop into Sussex and over the decades the march of the marsh frog has continued, sometimes ‘helpfully’ assisted by humans. One Sussex herpetologist, in order to study them closer, moved some marsh frogs one Friday afternoon from Lewes to his suburban Burgess Hill garden pond. On Monday morning he was served a noise abatement order by the council. Marsh frogs will also respond to human laughter so, if you fancy a laugh, head to the marshes. Smile and the world smiles with you. Laugh and a marsh frog laughs at you.

Comments

  • Chris Burt:

    27 May 2021 11:01:00

    Heard these making a racket at Knowlands Wood yesterday.

  • 27 May 2021 13:09:00

    They have made it to the west of West of West Sussex too – here are some I heard but did not see in a reedy pool beside the footpath between RSPB Pagham Harbour and RSPB Medmerry – video here: https://www.facebook.com/sim.elliott2/posts/466289701139136

  • Jan:

    27 May 2021 20:08:00

    I heard something just like this around Lake Victoria when I worked in Tanzania. Probably not the same?

  • annie:

    27 May 2021 20:10:00

    Can I buy some Marsh Frogs for our pond?!

  • Helen McNeil:

    27 May 2021 22:23:00

    Used to live in Faversham, Kent, close to Oare Nature Reserve where there are hundreds of these noisy characters. Where’s the best place to hear them near Eastbourne, please?

  • Anne Yarrow:

    28 May 2021 11:13:00

    You can hear them in the Cockshut and the ditches of the Brooks, on the south side of Lewes.

  • Jill:

    29 May 2021 07:00:00

    Heard this same ‘laughter’ near the river Adur in a pond north of White’s Bridge in Upper Beeding.

  • Beryl Fleming:

    01 Jun 2021 08:19:00

    I think they might be saying something (???) to Boris and Dominic and I don’t mean ‘have a nice day’…..
    Beryl

  • Susan Evans:

    01 Jun 2021 13:31:00

    Yes, heard these chortling away in the ditches of the Brooks only yesterday. It’s impossible not to smile.

  • Peter:

    08 Jun 2021 15:36:00

    If they arrived as your next door neighbours you would not feel the same. All day and night, constant calling. At least Knotweed is silent and can be got rid of.

  • Margaret Noble:

    20 Jun 2021 15:28:00

    We have them in our garden pond in Surrey where an idiot introduced them to a nearby pond. They have spread for miles. I watched one large female sit motionless near me till a small frog, possibly a male hopped nearby and she pounced with astonishing speed and sat there with only its wriggling legs being sucked down her gargantuan throat. The noise they make penetrates the double glazing. We just hope the native species survive.

Leave a comment