Friday, June 5, 2015

A Critter Out of Place

I spent around 10 years living in the South.  Six years of college and four years working.  During that time I developed a strong affinity - I could even say affection - for frogs.  This was not the kind of fetish that leads to accumulating ceramic frogs, frog logos, bumper stickers, etc., but rather a desire to spend time among frogs, watching them, listening to them, and sometimes catching them.  I've kept some as pets, then released them in the same or similar habitat.  In the South, the Bullfrog, Rana catesbieana, is native.  Other similarly large frogs in the region include the Gopher Frog and the Pig Frog.  Even those dissection favorites in high school biology classes, the Leopard Frog and the Green Frog, can get pretty big.  Then there are the tree frogs, Hyla, the chorus frogs, Pseudacris, and the spadefoot frogs, Scaphiopus.  There are a few other less common frogs, and there are the many kinds of toads.  The Deep South is a veritable herpetologist's Paradise.  Or was.  At least I have memories.

In California, the Bullfrog is an "alien," an "invasive," and very tasty.  It was imported in the 19th Century and liked it here, especially man-made habitats like irrigation canals and farm ponds, hatchery ponds, etc.  It's doing the same thing people are doing - acting out of Manifest Destiny, assuming that anything we can do, we should do.  It's hard to be an advocate of protecting the native Yellow-legged Frog while simultaneously supporting efforts to eradicate the Bullfrog.  This is especially true when I witness "the thrill of the kill" among some people involved in the eradication efforts.  It's similar to what I see in some efforts to eradicate gophers from lawns and gardens.  We create a habitat that is incredibly inviting to said rodents, then use whatever means available to eliminate them.  For some of the eradicators, an adolescent urge surfaces and we see laughter and excitement around "blowing up" the gophers with gasoline or propane or fireworks, or stabbing them with cruel traps.  Similar to what we see with shooting ground squirrels for fun.

So, as I make my almost-daily visits to Dellinger's Pond, a man-made natural place, I think about how we invited the Bullfrogs, but they have overstayed their welcome.  They are very resilient, so I know I will have many more days, and probably years, to enjoy their Jug-o-rums, even while cooperating with the idea that they don't "belong" there.

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