Essential pet advice with vet Jo Gourlay

Apologies for the breaking the series of articles about skin tumours but having been tiptoeing cautiously around Penninghame pond this week, I thought while they are still out and about en- masse, just in case anyone wanted to go and have a look for themselves, it would be good to have a brief article about our amphibian friend the frog.

I realised I didn’t really know the difference between frogs and a toads. Both are amphibians, which mean they are cold blooded and spend part of their lives in fresh water and part on land, but toads fit their classic fairytale image of having dry warty skin and crawling with their shorter legs whereas frogs have smooth skin with a dark patch behind their eye and hop. Frogs also lay their spawn in clumps as opposed to toads that produce long strings. Although frogs live in a variety of different damp places they need to be near fresh water in the spring to lay this spawn, in fact they often return to the place they were born. The female frogs are much larger than the males although the boys are the noisy ones croaking to attract their mates. Amazingly, each female will lay about a thousand eggs with protective jelly around them (frog spawn), of these only a few will become fully grown adult frogs, a process that takes about 3 years (although they are miniature versions of frogs as young adults by about 4 months). From the spawn emerge tiny tadpoles which eat the remaining protective jelly around them before then moving onto vegetable matter. At this stage they get their oxygen from the water by breathing through gills like fish. Tadpoles make a good dinner for a number of animals like birds, fish and dragonfly larvae to name a few. Those tadpoles that survive grow bigger, their tails start to disappear and legs begin to form while their lungs develop until they start to breathe air. Their diet becomes more carnivorous eating small invertebrates in the water and, if food is scarce, will even eat their tadpole friends!

Adult frogs eat all kinds of creepy crawlies including snails, caterpillars, beetles and slugs. They have special sticky tongues and good eyesight to help catch these delights. As adults they are still prey for certain birds as well as for numerous mammals such as otters, weasels, pine martins and badgers. Over the winter months frogs hibernate either in the mud at the bottom of ponds or in sheltered damp spots on land.

If anyone is interested in finding out more the Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission also do a really good information sheet about the common frog (www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/education/commonfrog.pdf .) The forestry commission website www.forestry.gov.uk has directions to Penninghame pond if you fancy meeting the creature itself (although timing is everything as they are only there for a limited period but on certain days the frogs are literally like a carpet under foot on part of the circuit so be careful where you tread). You may even spot the frog spawn in the stagnant water to the side of the pond. According to the forestry commission at various times of the year you can see other wildlife such as long tailed tits, buzzards, jays, moorhens, coots, red squirrels and dragonflies at the pond too, and I will also testify to adders so it’s well worth a visit.