The first time I heard that deep-throated, baritone “harrumph,” it instantly grabbed my attention. It originated with my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Exton, during one of my classic show-and-tell presentations. I was amazed at how much it sounded like the bullfrogs in our neighbor’s pond.
To this day, I’m still not sure why she chose that particular time to show off that impressive improvisation. She must have been trying to give me an idea for a future project. She’d be happy to know that I’m finally getting around to it.
The musical bass of the swamps, lakes and ponds is none other than that largest of our continent’s frogs — the American bullfrog. Under the right conditions, their spring and summer song can reverberate for over a mile, lending a ghostly haunt to the steamy night air.
From a scientific point of view, the bullfrog is a member of the Ranidae family, also known as “true frogs.” The family also includes northern and southern leopard frogs, green frogs, pickerel frogs and wood frogs.
That leaves a few frogs that are apparently something other than true frogs. Their family tree is called Hylidae and includes tree frogs, chorus frogs and the cricket frog. Before you ask, toads may look like a frog and jump like a frog, but they’re “¦ toads. They have their own family, Bufonidae. Scientific taxonomy is a little complex for me, so we’ll just take those experts’ word on it.
So, what makes the bullfrog a true frog? All the family members in the Ranidae family have some unique features that I’m sure turn those other frog families green with envy (or dirty brown, in the toad’s case).
The true frogs tend to have a slender waist, teeth on the upper jaw, webbed hind feet, horizontal eye pupils, long legs with pointy toes and a great jumping ability. Sure, a lot of those Hylidae can climb trees, leaving true frogs ground- or waterbound, but true frogs are voraciously carnivorous, so it’s a good thing many Hylidae can stay out of range.
The bullfrog is the perfect example of its family heritage. Its habitat includes ponds, lakes and slow-moving water where it hunts insects, crustaceans, small reptiles, birds, small mammals and other frogs. Its tongue is attached to the front of its mouth, and it uses it to dart out and help capture its prey.
As mentioned, these can be big frogs, ranging up to 8 inches without a “leg stretch.” I remember catching one while fishing with my dad. I tossed it in our old metal minnow bucket and it covered the entire bottom. While he saw a frog-leg dinner, I wanted to release it into a local pond.
I won that one.
If you take a close look at the true frogs, you’ll see a round disc behind the eye. That’s their eardrum. Surprisingly, if you ever want to decide if you have a male or female bullfrog in your hand, that’s your answer. Females have eardrums about the size of their eyes, but they’re much larger in males.
The bullfrog’s peak breeding season is May through July. Females will deposit thousands of eggs in a protective jelly-like film with the youngsters, called tadpoles, emerging about four days after fertilization. The tadpoles grow quickly and can be up to 7 inches long. They’re carnivorous from birth, eating anything that will fit into their mouth.
Their first winter is spent as tadpoles, becoming frogs the following summer; however, it can sometimes take several years for them to fully transform into adults. Predators, both fish and birds (plus the occasional kid with a Ball jar) can take their toll on tadpoles, but nature has given them a few edges.
Their speckled, brown skin makes them almost invisible when they remain still on a muddy pond bottom, and their long tails give them a burst of Mario Andretti’s evasive speed when they need it. An interesting fact about the tadpole’s tail is that it has the ability to regrow if it loses it to a predator or injury.
So, these are some of the reasons that overharvesting an area can take years to fully recover and why there’s regulations requiring a fishing license to possess bullfrogs, along with a season to protect them during breeding.
Ohio’s frog season began June 8 (the second Friday in June) through April 30, 2019. Only bullfrogs and green frogs may be taken. No more than 15 frogs may be taken or possessed in any one day.
So, who would want to catch bullfrogs? Their legs were a staple food of Native Americans and later-arriving European explorers and settlers, continuing to be held in high regard by many today. In France, “des cuisses de grenouille” have long been considered a delicacy. Many describe the meat as having a texture similar to a chicken wing with a mild flavor that’s magically crossed between fish and chicken.
While I was living in Vanlue, the New Riegel Café and Alvada’s Windmill Inn Restaurant were popular eateries on the weekends. While the Café remains renowned for its ribs, the Windmill had quite a buffet dinner and its frog legs were a centerpiece.
So, there you go, Mrs. Exton “¦ my bullfrog show-and-tell column. Somehow, I think I can hear her imitating that “harrumph” again. She sure was funny sometimes. As I think about it, I may still owe her some homework “¦
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” — Mark Twain
Along the way:
On Aug. 7, there’s a free workshop on the basics of frog gigging at 7 p.m., Barney Quilter CCC Camp, 1518 E. County Road 113, Green Springs. Division of Wildlife staff will discuss equipment, techniques and regulations while also demonstrating cleaning. Plan to stay well after dark for the fun in the field portion of the workshop.
Groups will take to the camp’s ponds with wildlife pros to capture some frogs, so you better come prepared. Consider wearing old clothes and shoes while bringing along waders, hip boots, or a canoe or kayak to better access the ponds. A headlamp or flashlight is recommended.
Anyone 16 years of age or older must have a valid fishing license to participate. Preregistration is required by Aug. 6, as space is limited. For information or to register, call Andrea Altman at 419-429-8321.
Want a recipe? Here’s one from the Wild Ohio Cookbook, http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/education-and-outdoor-discovery/wild-ohio-cookbook.
Succulent Frog Legs
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic or minced garlic
Add lemon juice to bowl of water and soak frog legs for several hours. Add olive oil to skillet. Pat frog legs dry with a paper towel and place in skillet. Cook over medium heat, turning once after undersides are golden brown. Sprinkle diced chives over frog legs. Add 2 tablespoons of cooking wine to oil. Cover and steam several minutes until golden brown. Makes 3 to 4 servings.
• Tomorrow: 3-D mixed animal archery match, registration opens 8 a.m., Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109, Findlay. Call Harold Spence at 419-423-9861.
• Tomorrow: International Defensive Pistol Association shoot, 9 a.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.