The common frog (Rana temporaria) is one of Britain’s few native amphibians and generations of children have collected frogspawn – the fogs egg masses – in order to watch the resulting tadpoles hatch and grow in miniature versions of the adult frogs known as froglets.
However as Britain’s wildlife comes under ever more strain due to the expansion of the human population, plus a reduction in suitable habitats it is advisable now to merely enjoy frogs from a distance rather than capture them for captive observation.
The common frog is an easy species to identify by it’s moist, slimy-looking skin and long back legs. The common frog varies quite a bit in size though 8-10cm is a normal body length for them. The colour of adults can vary considerably though it is typically either a mossy green or a brown color, often with dark mottling over the base colour.
The only aspect of identification which can cause confusion is telling the difference between frogs and toads. Toads typically have a drier, more warty skin. Toads are more likely to crawl rather than jump as a mode of transport, are often darker in colour and have a large parotid (poison) gland behind the eye which can be seen in the form of a sizable lump.
As amphibians frogs favour cool, damp environments. Whilst they are most commonly seen in the spring months while breeding in still water such as garden ponds, they actually spend most of the rest of the year out of water, typically using plant cover to try and hide from potential predators which may include herons, foxes and a number of smaller birds of prey.
The ideal habitat to attract frogs into your garden is an area of water such as a pond surrounded with dense plants to provide cover. It should also be easy to get into and back out of the pond and so a small ramp in the form of a thick tree branch or a rock is also a worthwhile addition.
Common frogs are carnivorous and will eat virtually anything they can get into their mouths. Examples of prey items may include ants, caterpillars and even some smaller beetles.
Frogs typically hibernate during the winter months in the UK and northern Europe. They typically emerge in early spring and begin to breed in March. To breed, the male frog grasps the female in a position known as “amplexus”. So if you see two frogs in this embrace, the male is typically ontop with the female beneath him.
The large masses of eggs in a jelly coating, known as frogspawn, may be seen in standing water. Where a pond has been recently removed, female frogs may even try to lay eggs on the bare ground where the pond used to be and this could be quickly and gently moved into the nearest pond to prevent the eggs from perishing.
Once they hatch, the tadpoles will eat virtually anything they can fit in their mouths from smaller siblings up to pond weed and algae. They can be fed on crumbled fish food and shredded lettuce if brought indoors though care must be taken that the water does not foul.
Frogs will often try to return to their original hatching pond in order to spawn so removed ponds can cause a real problem, as can road casualties caused by frogs crossing busy roads to find a suitable spawning site.