Capricious autumn left frogs out late

Submitted by Looduskalender EN on Sun, 18.12.2016 - 01:49
külmumine veekogus
The common or grass or brown frog that is to the menu of the Animal of the Year, the badger, spends the winter buried in mud at the bottom of water bodies. This year’s first snow startled all cold-blooded creatures into using any paths in the snow to reach the waters quickly. But they were not caught in a badger’s jaws because badgers preparing for winter sleep have finished feeding by that time.
Photo: Tarmo Mikussaar

Posted by the Animal of the Year team 07.12.2016

On the threshold of early winter let us glance at the autumn this year. The peculiarity of the 2016 autumn was the early snow. Already on October 25 the first snowmen appeared in Estonia. True, their life was not long..
The next morning I found large numbers of tracks on the thawing snow, at first sight belonging to unknown creatures. Closer inspection showed that at least for the common frogs the snow had fallen unexpectedly. With jumps a handspan* long the tracks went without fail towards the pond. The tracks were many. In the area with the busiest traffic I saw on a stretch of 2 meters the tracks of 5 frogs. Clearly a mass migration to the wintering area. All had taken place in the night. In the morning no amphibians were to be seen anywhere.
It surprised me that coldblooded animals managed to be so active in thawing snow. Their sense of direction was amazing too. The routes were as if drawn by ruler, always straight in the direction of the pond. Not a single unnecessary jump. Try to check the surroundings in the dark from the level of a frog’s eye! The result is zero. Yet all the little animals knew where to head..
The movements on the snow had caught the attention of a fox. The frogs found were marked with a couple of urine drops. The tracks revealed that it was a male fox.
The interest of a ferret in the events was greater. At the crossing of the tracks the journey of the frog ended. Three frogs had been dragged to the cavities at the roots of an old black alder shrub stand. A ferret habitually sets up winter stores. It bites the frog in the neck, so it is paralysed but stays alive. This ensures that the food does not get spoilt. Sometimes one hiding place may contain a bucket of frogs. Always good to have enough stores for rainy days. .
Badgers too eat frogs but in late autumn-early winter the frogs will no longer end up in a badger’s jaws because badgers have finished feeding when the snow arrives. Badgers are ready for the winter sleep.

Vahur Sepp


* Estonian vaks - old measuring unit, handspan in English, distance between thumb and little finger in an outstretched hand, roughly 22 cm.

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