He’s probably alone in that belief, of course. Because frogs get a bad press – if they get any press at all. Yet they are perhaps the most incredible creatures that walk – or more accurately hop – on this fair land.
Dúlra has a special bond with this tiny frog. He’s watched it transform from a miniscule ink-like dot into a tadpole. And then he’s seen it grow legs and finally leave its watery home.
He fully understands the beaming pride of a mother watching from the door as her young son leaves for his first day at school, the delight of a father as his toddler daughter takes her first-ever steps. Because Dúlra almost had to wipe a tear from his eye as he freed this tiny frog into the garden undergrowth.
We are going all amphibious for today's #FloraFauaFriday. At this time of year froglets are widespread throughout the country & at 12 weeks their metamorphosis is practically complete. Frogs are 1 of 3 amphibians in Ireland – the others being the Natterjack Toad & Smooth Newt. pic.twitter.com/a1Sci9LKmO— Waterways Ireland #StayAtHome (@waterwaysirelan) July 10, 2020
The protection he had provided it from birth had ended. From that moment forward, it would fend for itself. And it’s a jungle out there – literally. Dúlra’s garden is small, but to a frog the size of a fingernail, it’s like the Amazon. No film script could do justice to the adventures that await it. Thankfully, it has 200 siblings to share that adventure with. Dúlra saved them all from certain death and over the past two months he has managed to shield it from a multitude of dangers.
During the heatwave at the start of lockdown – yes, it seems like a year ago already – millions, maybe billions, of fRogspawn were doomed. Down at Giant’s Park at the docks. Female frogs had laid their eggs in any puddle they could find. And with weeks of scorching weather, most had shrivelled and the tiny black dot in the centre – what would in good times become a tadpole – had died.
The heatwave that we so adored had come at exactly the wrong time for Ireland’s frogs. They were being annihilated on a biblical scale.
And that’s on top of decades of agricultural drainage that has destroyed the damp fields that they relied on. When Dúlra was a youngster, we used to find a solitary frog every year in a next door neighbour’s garden in Andersontown in the long grass around a rose bush. He didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, it’s clear that this was the very spot it had been born before the houses had been built just a few years before. A frog often lives for 12 years or more.
They were returning to the place of their birth to breed, like their ancestors had done since time immemorial. But the water they were seeking was no longer there.
I made a bog pot today!— Simon Benson (@BotanyBenson) July 10, 2020
An old bucket makes the perfect home for a small garden bog.
These are two Sarracenia pitcher plants and a sad Venus flytrap (bottom right), all of which grow well outdoors in Ireland!
I also spotted some of our frogs; some wonderful yellow shades! pic.twitter.com/3cliFYnx3c
Earlier this year when Dúlra collected the spawn at Giant’s Park, he already had the perfect home for them – an old Belfast sink in the garden. He tilted it so when they turned into frogs, they could escape the water. One time previously he had placed spawn in a bucket – and many of the frogs had drowned, something he had never thought possible. They need to be able to climb out of the water once they turn into frogs. Rearing frogs is as simple as the instructions on a Pot Noodle: Just add water.
Miraculously, like the gremlins in the famous 80s film, H2O breathes life into them. Thanks to Tyrone teenager Hanna McSorley, whose videos of thousands of tadpoles have been an internet sensation, Dúlra learned of their favourite food – spinach. And so his garden family has grown steadily healthier day by day.
A single female frog can lay an incredible 20,000 eggs – and it’s estimated that in the wild, just one in a thousand make it to adulthood. In the same way that plankton are the basic foodstuff of the sea, frogspawn is feasted on by countless animals.
Dúlra had to chase away three blackbirds who had managed to get into the sink and were splashing about, feasting on the tiny tadpoles. Even a net covering was breached several times.
But this week many of them left the water as frogs. And like that old frog of Dúlra’s childhood, they’ll return to the place of their birth to spawn themselves. Although Dúlra has yet to work out a way to let them climb back into a Belfast sink.