Frogs

Somewhat higher than the fish in the scale of life is the frog. Although he begins life as a fish, and in the tadpole state breathes by gills, he soon discards the water-diluted air of the pond, and with perfect lungs boldly inhales the pure air of the upper world. His life as a tadpole, although so fish-like, is much inferior to true fish life: for though the fish has not the perfect lung, he has a modification of it which he fills with air, not for breathing purposes, but as an air-sac to make him float like a bubble in the water. Will he rise to the surface? he inflates the air-bladder. Will he sink to the bottom? he compresses the air-bladder. But in the frog the air-bladder changes into the lungs, and is never the delicate balloon which floats the fish in aqueous space. When the frog’s lungs are perfected, his gills close, and he forever abandons fish-life, though being a cold-blooded creature he needs comparatively little air, and delights to return to his childhood’s home in the bottom of the pond. But although he can stay under water for a long time, he is obliged to hold his breath while there, and when he would breathe must come to the surface to do so. It is possible to drown him by holding him under water.

As a feeder the frog relies upon animal life, which he expertly seizes with a tongue fastened by the wrong end, as compared with our tongues. He is a certain marksman, and when he aims at an insect the chances are that the insect will enter his stomach and be there speedily changed into a new form of animal life.

Although from the moment the gills disappear the frog is a true land animal, he is obliged, on account of the fish-like character of his young, to lay his eggs in the water. For this purpose the frogs enter the pools in early spring. The surface of every country pond swarms with the bright-eyed little creatures. They have awakened from a long, cold, winter sleep, to find the spring about them and within them. Life has suddenly become abundant and joyous. Their sluggish blood flows faster, their hearts beat quicker; they leap, they swim, they swell out their throats and call to each other in various keys. The toads are with them, and the pretty tree-frogs that change their color to suit their emotions. And all are rapturously screaming. Their voices are not musical, according to man’s standard, but seem to afford great satisfaction to the performers in the shrill orchestra of the swamps, who thus give vent to the flood of life that sweeps through them after the still, icy winter.

As though the new spring-life were too plentiful to find room in the frogs and toads already existing, it calls for more frogs and toads; and new creatures are born to share the extra vitality. Like the flowers and the fish, the frogs, too, give forth new life. Within them, too, the miracle is performed. The tiny eggs of the one wake up and begin to grow. The tiny living bodies in the fertilizing principle of the other also wake up and begin to grow. But higher life is better guarded, because less prolific. The frog and the toad lay but few eggs as compared with the fish. Fish eggs may drop under the stones or float away, and so escape the vital touch of the fertilizing principle. There are so many that numbers may be lost and yet enough remain to continue the family. Not so with the frog family. No egg may be lost. So we find that the eggs of the frog are not dropped singly, like so many shot, but are bound together by a colorless, transparent, jelly-like substance, much like that found in the morning-glory seed, and which like that supplies nourishment to the young life, for the tadpole feeds upon it until he is able to seek other food. Moreover, instinct has taught the frog the need of extreme caution in the act of fertilization. Every egg must be fertilized. As the time draws near for the dropping of the few eggs into the water, the male frog so places himself that the moment the eggs are being laid, he pours over them, one by one, as they fall into the water, the fertilizing fluid.

And thus the mystery of life is again repeated. The union of the living, microscopic bodies of the fertilizing principle with the new laid egg is followed by the growth of the two elements into a living creature, able to eat, to breathe, to see, to feel. In some unknown way the atom of fertilizing principle seems to have contained the whole life of the father-frog, for it can give to his sons and daughters any of his peculiarities, either of color, form, motion, or disposition; and the tiny egg seems to have contained the whole life of the mother-frog, and can give to her sons and daughters any of her peculiarities; though, as is true of all inheritance, the tadpoles, as the young frogs are called, share the natures of both parents, inheriting some peculiarities from the father and others from the mother.

But, like other life, although the frogs may vary a good deal within frog limits, none of them can escape their own limits and enter into those of any other life. Once a frog, always a frog; and no frog-egg may hope to develop into a turtle, or a bird, or anything but a frog. The life in the fertilizing principle of the frog is sacred to frog eggs, and is lifeless in contact with any other.

Our common frogs, like many of the fishes, do not trouble themselves about the fate of their eggs after they are carefully laid in a safe place. They trust Mother Nature to see the little tadpoles safely through the perils of childhood, to help them change their dresses and get rid of their tails, and cut, not their teeth, but their arms and legs.

In Venezuela, however, there dwells a frog with well developed maternal instinct. The mothers have pockets on their backs, not for their own convenience, but as cradles for their babies. The fathers put the fertilized eggs into the pockets of the mothers; and there they remain, well guarded, until the young are able to care for themselves.

Johnny and the Toad

JOHNNY:
I want to go to school,
And he won’t let me pass.
I think that a toad
Ought to keep to the grass.
I don’t want to cry,
But I’m afraid I’m going to;
Oh, dear me!
What am I to do?

TOAD:
Here’s a dreadful thing!
A boy in the way;
I don’t know what to do,
I don’t know what to say.
I can’t see the reason
Such monsters should be loose;
I’m trembling all over,
But that is of no use.

JOHNNY:
I Must go to school,
The bell is going to stop;
That terrible old toad,
If only he would hop.

TOAD:
I Must cross the path,
I can hear my children croak;
I hope that dreadful boy
Will not give me a poke.
A hop, and a start, a flutter, and a rush,
Johnny is at school, and the toad in his bush.

THE LEAP-FROG by Hans Christian Andersen

leaping frog with orange feet, jumping from a green branch or leaf

A Flea, a Grasshopper, and a Leap-frog once wanted to see which could jump highest; and they invited the whole world, and everybody else besides who chose to come to see the festival. Three famous jumpers were they, as everyone would say, when they all met together in the room.

“I will give my daughter to him who jumps highest,” exclaimed the King; “for it is not so amusing where there is no prize to jump for.”

The Flea was the first to step forward. He had exquisite manners, and bowed to the company on all sides; for he had noble blood, and was, moreover, accustomed to the society of man alone; and that makes a great difference.

Then came the Grasshopper. He was considerably heavier, but he was well-mannered, and wore a green uniform, which he had by right of birth; he said, moreover, that he belonged to a very ancient Egyptian family, and that in the house where he then was, he was thought much of. The fact was, he had been just brought out of the fields, and put in a pasteboard house, three stories high, all made of court-cards, with the colored side inwards; and doors and windows cut out of the body of the Queen of Hearts. “I sing so well,” said he, “that sixteen native grasshoppers who have chirped from infancy, and yet got no house built of cards to live in, grew thinner than they were before for sheer vexation when they heard me.”

It was thus that the Flea and the Grasshopper gave an account of themselves, and thought they were quite good enough to marry a Princess.

The Leap-frog said nothing; but people gave it as their opinion, that he therefore thought the more; and when the housedog snuffed at him with his nose, he confessed the Leap-frog was of good family. The old councillor, who had had three orders given him to make him hold his tongue, asserted that the Leap-frog was a prophet; for that one could see on his back, if there would be a severe or mild winter, and that was what one could not see even on the back of the man who writes the almanac.

“I say nothing, it is true,” exclaimed the King; “but I have my own opinion, notwithstanding.”

Now the trial was to take place. The Flea jumped so high that nobody could see where he went to; so they all asserted he had not jumped at all; and that was dishonorable.

The Grasshopper jumped only half as high; but he leaped into the King’s face, who said that was ill-mannered.

The Leap-frog stood still for a long time lost in thought; it was believed at last he would not jump at all.

“I only hope he is not unwell,” said the house-dog; when, pop! he made a jump all on one side into the lap of the Princess, who was sitting on a little golden stool close by.

Hereupon the King said, “There is nothing above my daughter; therefore to bound up to her is the highest jump that can be made; but for this, one must possess understanding, and the Leap-frog has shown that he has understanding. He is brave and intellectual.”

And so he won the Princess.

“It’s all the same to me,” said the Flea. “She may have the old Leap-frog, for all I care. I jumped the highest; but in this world merit seldom meets its reward. A fine exterior is what people look at now-a-days.”

The Flea then went into foreign service, where, it is said, he was killed.

The Grasshopper sat without on a green bank, and reflected on worldly things; and he said too, “Yes, a fine exterior is everything—a fine exterior is what people care about.” And then he began chirping his peculiar melancholy song, from which we have taken this history; and which may, very possibly, be all untrue, although it does stand here printed in black and white.

[from Andersen's Fairy Tales, by Hans Christian Andersen]

THE FROGS AND THE FAIRIES by Abbie Phillips Walker

frogs and fairyes race illustration

In a pond in a dell lived a big family of frogs, and one day when the sun was shining all the young bullfrogs came up out of the water and hopped on the bank. “I think it would be good fun to see what is in the dell beside this pond,” said Billy Bull, who was a young and inquisitive frog.

“What do you fellows say to a lark to-night by the light of the moon?”

“We’ll go, we’ll go, Billy Bull,” said all the other young frogs in chorus.

“Better stay home, better stay home,” croaked old Grandfather Bullfrog from his seat on a stump by the edge of the pond.

“Oh, hear old grandfather croaking!” said Billy Bull; “he never went out of this pond in all his days, and what does he know of the dell?”

“Better stay home, better stay home,” croaked Grandfather Frog.

“You can, Grandfather Frog, if you like, but we young frogs are going for a lark tonight, and when we come back we will tell you what is in the dell,” said Billy Bull.

That night when the moon was up and shining through the trees, out of the pond leaped all the young froggies.

“Better stay home, better stay home,” croaked Grandfather Frog from his seat on the stump, but the young froggies only laughed as grandfather’s warning followed them through the dell—”Better stay home, better stay home.”

It happened that the Fairies were holding a party that night, and when Billy Bull and all the other young frogs hopped and leaped into the middle of the dell they saw the bright lights of the fireflies’ lanterns.

“Looks to me like all the fireflies in the world had gathered for us to feast on,” said Billy Bull. “What luck for us.”

Away off they could still hear Grandfather Frog croaking his warning: “Better stay home, better stay home.” But it was no warning to the young froggies; they only saw the fireflies and the feast in store for them.

The froggies had never seen the Fairies before and they thought they, too, were little insects, so, without stopping to think or look closer into the midst of the Fairy revel, in leaped Billy Bull and all his cousins.

But the Fairies were as quick as the frogs, and no sooner had they leaped than up went all the fairy wands, and there stood each frog still and stiff. They were not able to move; they could only stare and listen.

“What are these creatures that dare to disturb us?” asked the Queen.

“Your Majesty, they are frogs,” said a fire-fly, “and I expect they intended to eat us.”

“Eat the lantern bearers of the fairies!” said the Queen. “They shall suffer for this.”

“Off with a toe on each front foot, and then perhaps these frogs will stay at home and not hop about at night. Where do they live?” asked the Queen.

“In the pond at the end of the dell,” said the fireflies.

“Send them home,” said the Queen, “and every time they wander far from their pond they shall lose a toe.”

Down on the foot of the froggies went the fairy wands, and where the frogs had five toes there remained only four on each of their front feet, and then with their wands on the heads of the froggies the fairies turned them around and drove them back to their pond.

“Better stayed home, better stayed home,” croaked their Grandfather Frog as the young froggies leaped sadly into the pond and buried themselves in the mud at the bottom.

And that was the way it is said frogs came to have five toes on each of their hind feet and only four toes on each front foot. If they had listened to their grandfather’s warning they would still have their other toes.