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Monday, 19 February 2018

If on a winter's night a traveller ...

Out on a nocturnal expedition, and discovered I wasn’t the only one.

A shape on the path, its coloration blending in orangely with the surroundings under the sodium light, adumbrated by shadow. There as still as a statue, as if it had both just materialised that instant and also been there all along for centuries, was a large frog, squatting crouched in its sumo pose, jewel eye impassively taking in the scene, weighing up a next move.

Time and toad wait for no one ....

A few more steps and there was another, then another, and a mature palmate newt, then another newt, a toad, then more toads and frogs, at intervals along the church path. All 3 of our common species were on the march, on one short brief stretch of urban Exeter footpath. One could imagine the earth had belched them up from some netherworldly subterranean place, an amphibian version of a Stanley Spencer mass resurrection for spring.

The last few nights had been mild and wet, constantly damp, intermittent rain, then more rain, with nocturnal temperatures tipping above 5oC. This must have been the trigger to stir from hibernation, emerging from damp corners of gardens from under stones, paths, sheds, and the soil.

It’s easy to forget about the terrestrial part of the amphibian lifecycle, and that most of the amphibian year is spent away from the pond - apart from the breeding season. In these squally warmer wet nights, the moist atmosphere aids breathing through the skin and gives less risk of dehydration, plus means that ditches and ponds may be filling up. Collective emergence gives better odds that any one individual will survive the gathering attention of predators.
Toadzilla, on the march (on some screens this may be too dark to see)
It’s said that the older and larger individuals make the migration trek earlier, possibly trading off safety in return for the chance to claim first the best breeding opportunities. Certainly the participants in this evening’s ‘frogtide’ were mature animals, collisions leading to amplexus grabs and toads inflating in alarm, presaging the contests to come. Soon there will be spawn, soon spring will be on the way.

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