The Mysterious Tree Frogs


I always get suspicious when I see my dog come in from outside with something inside his mouth.  He knows that I’m not going to let him bring anything from outside inside the house, so whenever he goes to the trouble to bring something in I know it must be a big deal because I’m going to chase him until I find what it is and then I’m going to throw it back outside – unless it is living that is.  If it is living I’ll let him kill it and then I have to dispose of the carcass.  Most of the time he bothers to bring anything inside it is living.  Ridley has a long, sordid history with other animals from flipping baby squirrels around in my neighbors yard (his kids thought it was adorable though their mother was disgusted) to the chipmunks that have had the misfortune of running from my cats in through the fireplace across the family room floor only to be eaten up by a large 65lb. Golden Retriever.  Aside from human beings, cats and dogs, living things don’t last long in my house.

The tree frogs are like a mosquito that only comes around at a certain point in the year – usually late in summer or early in fall – but always in abundance and to the delight of the animals that cohabitate in my home.  The cats seem like the natural hunters – hunting mice in abundance during the winter months and procuring small insects from in and around ceiling tiles.  One cat likes to Star Trek it and boldly go where no one has gone before, which is usually somewhere in between floors in my house, inside ventilation shafts, in my attic, occasionally deep into the heart of my garage and always somewhere where no one can seem to find her.  She is our best little killing machine though.  She’s fast and unlike my other cat she actually uses her nails for their intended purpose – mainly for shredding smaller varmints into small pieces.  She also likes my dog Ridley.  It’s cute when she follows him around cleaning him and sleeping in his lap.  It’s terrifying when she is following him around for other reasons.

My father has a fondness for cutting down trees that only a lumberjack could properly understand.  When we bought our house there were at least a dozen trees on the chopping block though that number quickly escalated into the twenties.  Now there are about five trees that the tree frogs can habitate.  There is their favorite tree which is a Birch tree close to the house.  It’s one of the tallest non-conifers in the yard and is the easiest to climb – though it’s bark does chip rather easily.  There is a nice Maple next to the Birch about fifteen feet away from it up on a slight mound overlooking the backyard and another Birch on the other side if the yard by the basketball hoop right next to the driveway.  There are two other trees that form the barrier between our lot and my neighbors lot, the particular kind of tree they are has always eluded me.  These are the areas that the tree frogs call home for their brief stint in my backyard though some do manage to stay in some of the low-lying bushes around the edges of the yard.  Few are able to do this because we often have small animals that come into our yard late at night and they will feed on these small tree frogs just as easily as Ridley enjoys feeding on them.

The tree frogs don’t magically just pop up at a certain time of year or anything – there is an evolutionary cycle to my backyard pest problem.  In late June/early July we get some of the biggest Junebugs you’ll ever see and as the summer wears on these Junebugs get eaten by the tree frogs.  The tree frogs get eaten by the various wildlife arrayed in and around my backyard and the circle of life goes on.  What’s mysterious to me is why these tree frogs keep coming back – year after year – only to be eaten by either small animals living around me or my dog, who enjoys playing, hunting and eating them.  Sure there are the Junebugs that must provide the initial draw to the area but why stay after such carnage ensues?  My dog is not nice when he plays with them.  He often doesn’t bite down on them preferring to keep them alive so he can play with them when he gets inside.  Ridley, being a Golden Retriever is a bird dog, so it is instinctual for him not to kill his prey immediately.  Bird dogs are generally used for hunting – you guessed it – birds.  Therefore when Ridley finds himself something nummy to eat he usually plays with it a little while and then kills it when he gets bored.  My cats, strangely enough, operate in much the same way.

The tree frogs usually don’t come around until September so it was a surprise to see and hear them here so early this year.  Last year’s incredibly hot climate might have had something to do with them coming in September just as a relatively mild summer may contribute to their arriving earlier this year.  There is a third possibility however and this is one that I find the most interesting to explore: could the tree frogs know instinctually that winter is not far away?  Other animals have so-called “sixth senses” about things like this.  My dog for instance can tell about twenty or thirty seconds before someone comes anywhere near my house that someone is indeed coming and they start barking early in preparation for their arrival.  My cats can figure out if there is a predatory animal inside or outside simply by setting foot in the surrounding area.  So is it crazy to think that maybe tree frogs can figure out the weather?  Maybe, but my bet is that they are at least as accurate as the meteorologists and in that case they only need to be right a little less than 20% of the time – hardly a high threshold to overcome.

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