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THE FROGS OF THE BAHAMAS - First published in the 'Nassau Guardian'.
It  was damp and humid on that September night in 1969. Underneath powerful arc lights at Miami International Airport, the two large wooden packing cases were still dripping from the recent rain as they awaited loading for a flight to West End, Grand Bahama. The night insects attracted by the brilliant lights made a fine supper for the several small green frogs perched atop the crates. 

 Later, long after the lights had been extinguished and as the darkness was replaced  dawn, the frogs retreated between the wooden slats of the packing cases to avoid the coming glare of the Florida sun. They were still hiding there when the cases were offloaded at West End a few hours later. The latest immigrants had arrived!

The above scenario may not be exact in its detail, but it certainly happened. The Squirrel Tree Frog, Hyla squirela was the latest addition to the fauna of The Bahama Islands.

The other amphibians have, we must assume, made a similar entry. It was believed that the Pig Frog, the Southern Leopard Frog and the Narrow-Mouthed Toad have made similar entries to the archipelago.  

Until the late seventies, the Narrow-Mouthed Toad was known only from Grand Bahama, where it was assumed it had been introduced in grass from Florida. Its known range southwards was extended when I discovered several of them in my garden near West Bay Street while pulling weeds around the walls of my house. The first Narrow-Mouthed Toad, an animal I had never seen before, now sits somewhere on a shelf in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington; the first Gastrophryne carolinensis recorded from the island of New Providence!

This insignificant little frog is easily overlooked. Growing to no more three-quarters of an inch, it is dark brown in colour and runs rather than jumps when it is disturbed, resembling in the process a Cockroach more than an amphibian.

Similar In size and habitat is a true little Bahamian frog. Known in the USA as the Greenhouse Frog, it has on these islands (as far as I am aware) no specific local name, probably because of its retiring habits and the fact that it is seldom seen.

These tiny amphibians have undoubtedly been in The Bahamas for many thousands of years as a new sub-species has populated these islands. Known to scientists as Eleutherodactylus planirostris rogersi, it is an animal well adapted to an environment where little fresh water is found.

Rather than producing a free-swimming tadpole, Eleutherodactylus lays its eggs in damp places where the tadpoles undergo rapid metamorphosis within the egg and hatch out as a miniature version of the adult frog.

The Pig Frog is aptly named, for its croak is loud and guttural, reminiscent of the noise made by a pig. Although this frog is frequently heard, it is seldom seen. It lives in ponds and ditches where there are frequently tall reeds and deep places where it can dive quickly to safety.

The Pig Frog spends much of its time resting on the surface with only its eyes out of the water awaiting unwary insects that it catches with its long tongue. When it hears the slightest noise, it dives as deep as it can with a distinct plopping sound. However carefully the observer approaches all he or she sees are a few ripples as the frog disappears beneath the surface.

The Pig Frog is closely related to the American Bullfrog, a species, which I am told, was introduced to Coral Harbour and Lyford Cay during the time that both of those resorts were thriving and there was a demand for frog legs in the various restaurants catering for the winter residents.

A similar species is the Southern Leopard Frog, a species that has apparently been introduced to Grand Bahama.

When we think of frogs In The Bahamas, we usually are thinking of the common Cuban Tree Frog Osteopilus septemtrionalis. This is the frog that sits near  lights and on  windows at night. As its name suggests it originated in Cuba, but has been In The Bahamas for a very long time. It Is by far the commonest Bahamian frog and is the predominant food of the Bahamas Boa or ‘Chicken Snake’. 

In Its own way the Cuban tree frog has been colonising those territories to the north of the Bahamas, even as the Squirrel Tree Frog, and the Pig and Leopard Frogs have been spawning their way south. The Cuban tree frog was first recorded in Key West in 1961, but has now spread as far north as Palm Beach County.

Most people are repelled by contact with frogs, and I must admit that even I -  an enthusiastic advocate of indigenous fauna, have been surprised when a slimy frog I didn’t see has jumped onto my neck or head as I passed beneath a Banana tree or opened a sliding door upon which the frog was taking its siesta!

Indeed, there is a definite basis for this fear of frogs (other than from the physical revulsion caused by sudden slimy contact by some unknown animal form). The mucus secreted by the skin of frogs may cause an intense irritation to the eyes and may even cause temporary blindness.

Frogs may not excite many people, and they certainly repel many more. But they are an important part of our natural heritage. They provide much of the diet of Bahamian snakes and many birds, and are important themselves as they consume thousands of insects each and every year.

Much as we may not like frogs, they are very much a part of nature’s plan, and they deserve their place within the fabric of our natural resources. 

© Rod Attrill