picture of a pregnant frog in the pond

Pregnant Frog

Along with a couple of garden visitors, I was looking at a stationary adult frog in the pond. Hey – said a woman, there’s an extra pair of legs, one frog is on top of another. What had seemed a single frog was in fact a breeding pair. Prior to fertilisation, the male gets on the back of the female, clutching her with nuptial pads on its ‘hands’. This may go on on for many hours; he will use his hind legs to kick any rivals away. When she lays her eggs the male will squirt sperm over the spawn. Other males may also fertilise the spawn.

I tried to take a photograph of the mating pair, but they were under water and reflection on the surface of the water was too bright to get any shots. Though, I managed one of a very pregnant frog, bulging with eggs. Frogs don’t need to come up for air for hours if they are inactive, as they can breathe through their skin as well as their lungs. Other adult frogs have been seen in the pond too. Not by me, as they are so well camouflaged that you really have to have a good, patient eye to spot them amongst the mass of underwater plants.

But frog spawn is on the way; usually laid at at night. Last spring, we had an incredible mass of spawn, more than I have ever seen before in our pond. Newts are active too. They lay their eggs individually, with far fewer eggs than frogs. The single eggs are wrapped in a leaf, so you are unlikely to see them.

Some people think newts are are a sort of lizard. They are not. Lizards are reptiles; they lay their eggs on land and have scaly skin. While newts (and frogs) are amphibians which lay their eggs in water, and have thin non-scaly skin. They have a larval form, tadpoles, which have gills and are fishlike.

Amphibians were the first vertebrates to come on to the land, around 300 million years ago. At the time, there were already plants on land including ferns growing as tall as trees. Worms and arthropods had made land at least a 100 million years earlier. Insects appear in the fossil record about 400 million years ago. Such life had to be present, as food, for these early amphibians. One of these early amphibian species was surely our ancestor.

There’s lots of birdsong in the garden from sparrows, blue tits, pigeons, and, one can hardly call it song, the screech of the parakeets. Our bird-feeders are busy, as this is mating time. I catch a flurry of sparrows at a feeder, two then three, before all are scared away by a pigeon.

There are many daffodils around the garden, large ones and dwarfs. No snowdrops this year or crocuses. Next year we must plant some. Both are harbingers of spring. The kerria is in bloom with its yellow flowers, as is the ever flowering shrub Viburnum tinus, by the small pergola. Our olive tree is doing well, with very healthy growth. I wonder if we’ll get any olives this year. Nearby is the acanthus dome, with its cluster of large, deep green leaves. No sign of snail damage as yet, but it will surely come, as they are a favourite food.

We are assembling material for a display to commemorate Benjamin Zephaniah, who sadly died in November, aged 65. He came to Newham in 1979, and his first poetry book, Pen Rhythm, was published by Page One Books in Stratford. Many people locally knew him as he lived in the borough until 2008, forming many friendships through his local gigs, his engagement with shortlife housing co-ops, his involvement with Newham Bookshop, and sponsorship of a schoolgirls football team.

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