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home : columns : columns May 3, 2016

6/18/2013 1:08:00 PM
Now it's bullfrogs!
The bullfrogs are here; more bad news for Sisters Country. photo by Jim Anderson
+ click to enlarge
The bullfrogs are here; more bad news for Sisters Country. photo by Jim Anderson

"Bullfrogs appear nearly unstoppable," says the news release from National Geographic. That's an understatement. There is only one other alien invader we have in Sisters Country that comes close to the destructive abilities and tenacity of the bullfrog, and that's the European starling.

I was sitting next to Kathy Deggendorfer when she leaned over and whispered, "I caught a bullfrog in my pond last night."

I leaned over and whispered, "Did you eat it?"

She said, "No, I let it go."

I almost shouted, "Oh, no!"

What we don't need in Sisters Country are bullfrogs. Just like the starlings that compete for food and shelter with all our native birds, bullfrogs will, in time, eradicate our native amphibians. Bullfrogs live in water, unlike the native, Western toads, tree frogs and long-toed salamanders, that are amphibious, only spending time in water in the tadpole stage.

Nothing in or on the water is safe from a bullfrog. They gobble up baby ducks, our native tree frogs, our only salamander in this neck of the woods, along with the native spotted frogs, any small fish that come within range, and baby Western toads, venom and all.

When I was doing naturalist projects at Sunriver, back in the early '70s, I found bullfrogs in the ponds, small lakes and sewage ponds. Try as I might, I could not eliminate the pests. Jay Bowerman, who took over the naturalist duties after I left, succeeded. He had to, to save the small population of Western spotted frogs thriving there today.

(After I left Sunriver, I discovered a guy down on the Little Deschutes was raising them and thought Sunriver needed a few and, without anyone's knowledge or permission, dumped them in the ponds about the time Sunriver got started.)

The tadpoles are so successful that the ecosystem is completely overrun with small and large bullfrogs, consequently the native amphibians don't have a chance - and more tadpoles mean more bullfrogs with voracious appetites.

Dennis Suhre, a graduate student at the University of Arizona, conducted studies of bullfrog intestines and found they eat just about anything they can fit into their mouths: birds, rats, snakes, lizards, turtles, fish, other frogs, and even each other.

Suhre said cannibalism, combined with competition for other food resources, gives younger bullfrogs incentive to leap far away from their hungry elders.

And leap they do.

"All you need is two bullfrogs, a male and a female," Suhre said. "A female lays about 20,000 eggs in her lifetime. Once that happens, it's very difficult to get the frogs out."

That means that somewhere, at least six miles away from Kathy's pond, there is another pond with bullfrogs in it. A person can do with his or her private pond what he or she wants to do, but to be a good neighbor, raising bullfrogs isn't a good idea.

It might be like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire to tell you this, but large-mouth bass have been found to be most effective at killing bullfrog tadpoles - but that's another non-native species. However, the good part is, bass can't hop from pond to pond, and they're supposed to be good eatin' when pan-fried.

And I can recall my grandmother cooking up delicious frogs legs when I was a kid on the farm in Connecticut.

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