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The American Bullfrog - Part One
by Keith A. Williams
Rana catesbeiana, or the American Bullfrog as it is better known, is the largest true frog in North America. Its common name of Bullfrog references the bull-like low-frequency croaking noise that it makes, which can be heard from close to a mile away. Bullfrogs have a broad body which can vary in color shade variations of brown and green, with white undersides green or gray brown with brown spots. They have short, stubby front legs and long, muscular, hind legs that end in webbed hind feet. Body lengths can progress to eight inches or more, and ten inch back legs are not unusual at all.
Bullfrogs are native to the Southeastern United States, but have naturally extended their range to more Western states, an introduced species to areas of South America and Europe. They thrive in moist, hot weather. They are most active in the warmer months and hibernate in tunnel-like holes in the winter so they wonít freeze. They live near water and are usually found on or near the edge of swamps, ponds, and lakes, but it is not unusual to see them crossing land at night, especially if humidity is high. They are very territorial and once they find a location that suits them, they will aggressively chase away others who intrude on their space.
Juvenile Bullfrogs are sometimes confused with the smaller, yet similar Green frogs, which only grow to about two to four inches in length, but lack the ridges on the frogís back. Although males and females donít differ much in physical appearance, the throat of the male may be yellow. Sex is more predictably determined by noting the size of the eardrum, because the ear drum is visible from a distance and the male frogís eardrum is twice diameter as that of the female.
Bullfrogs begin mating from late spring and remain reproductively active throughout much of the summer. The male will mount and squeeze the female with its front legs and the female will lay up to 20,000 eggs onto the grass while the male deposits sperm on top of them. The egg masses are huge, resembling semi floating mats of small bubbles, and are attached to submerged vegetation. The eggs hatch in around five days. The hatchlings will emerge as tadpoles and will resemble minnows of the same age in size. They live near the shore in shallow water areas and breathe underwater through gills. During this time, they will survive by eating algae and tender plant roots.
Bullfrogs develop have a fairly slow rate of development, and it can take several years before they begin transformation from tadpole to froglet. During this period, they will lose their tails and gills and grow legs. At this point, they will be equally at home on land or in water. They primarily take air into their lungs by mouth, but can also absorb oxygen and eliminate carbon dioxide through its skin. At this stage, they begin to feed on worms and small insects. Other than size, their physical appearance will not change much after this. Bullfrogs can reach adult size after about eight months, but wonít reach sexual maturity until three to five years of age. Adults have paratoid glands that emit mildly toxic secretions that donít taste good to attackers. This leaves them with few natural predators, and they typically live from eight to ten years in the wild.
ON TO PART 2 - The American Bullfrog
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