I had a bumper crop this year, and I'm not talkin' figs.
I have frogs. Southern leopard frogs. Southern toads (they're frogs, too — who knew?). Cuban tree frogs. And those are just the ones I was able to photograph. Who knows? I might also have spadefoot toads, which wouldn't surprise Steve Johnson, frog guru at the University of Florida.
They all co-exist quite happily, if not peacefully, in my teeny tiny garden pond.
I've had the pond for years; the frogs showed up just this summer. Underscore that curiosity with Pondscapes owner Michael Jones' observation that he has seen notably fewer frogs this year — and heard fewer complaints about them — and I figure I've got myself an Anuran phenomenon. (Anura: the taxonomical order to which frogs are assigned. I'm learning lots about frogs.)
If not for the tragic loss of Gil, previously my pond's sole resident, whose orange and lifeless goldfish body I found lying just beyond water's edge shortly after the appearance of a gajillion pollywogs, I'd say I've enjoyed my little green friends.
Not everyone does. Steve and Michael both hear a lot of complaints about the symphony of calls in spring and summer, when many frogs are (loudly) breeding. As with opera, rap and Pixy Stix pop, one person's cacophony is another's crooning.
"We get some people who say, 'I'm going to kill somebody! I can't get to sleep!' " Michael says. "It runs the gamut. We had a couple come in saying they wanted to build a pond for frogs."
Being a person whose musical talents have been most kindly described as "off," I'm happily in tune with the croaking. Except the morning they first appeared. Then, it was more like jackhammers.
If you'll recall, we had weeks of hot, dry spring until a deluge on June 1. The next morning, there was a racket like nothing I'd ever heard coming from the pond. When I investigated, I discovered Sodom and Gomorrah in my own backyard.
Steve identified the piggyback pairs floating languorously in my pond as Southern toads. In amplexus position. Males on top.
"It's not because they're lazy," he said. "She's bigger because she holds the eggs."
These frogs were quiet. Blissful. The noise was coming from the lonely hearts, guys screeching for mates from the bushes around the pond.
A day later, the pond — the birdbath, too — was coated in eggs. And a few days later, they were teeming with tadpoles.
Gil, a comet who'd thrived for years in the pond, seemed to love all the company. The last time I saw him alive, he was making a rare appearance at the surface, blowing bubbles and chomping away at something. The next morning, sashimi.
The timing seemed more than coincidence, and Michael, who has owned Pondscapes on S Manhattan Avenue for 18 years, agreed.
"With all the mating and the pooping, the ammonia levels in the water spike," he said. "It irritates the fish and you'll see the fish start jumping. But it's a rare state. It's not a normal thing to get that much reproduction going on."
You can correct the problem by pouring in some Amquel, a dechlorinator.
If all the tadpoles bother you, Michael says you can fix that, too. Buy a koi or a cichlid, a family of pretty African fish, and they'll eat the tadpoles. The koi should survive winters; cichlids likely won't.
Tadpoles won't hurt anything though, Steve says. In fact, they might clean up your pond a bit; they feed on algae and microorganisms and stuff they scrape off the bottom.
What you can't do anything about is those lusty breeding calls. But in Tampa, the time for frog lovemaking is winding down. There are some winter breeders, Steve says, and you'll likely hear from them after a rain, when the moist ground makes for safe travel to the nearest boudoir.
He suggests learning to live with the noise and embracing your frogs — though not the Cuban tree frogs or big cane toads. Both are invasive species that should be painlessly dispatched to amphibious afterlife.
"It's great that you have native species doing their thing in your yard," he says. "They're part of a Florida-friendly landscape."
He can't explain why they suddenly showed up in my little pond after all these years, but "if you have native frogs, you're doing something right."
It's about time!
Reach Penny Carnathan at [email protected] You can join her for garden chatting online at facebook.com/digginfladirt.