A lot of us, who are keen on frogs, often say to one another, “We’re going frogging”. Those who have never heard of the word give us the strangest of looks. “You’re going what?!”
In short, ‘frogging’ basically means to go in search of frogs (I doubt it’s in the dictionary). To the normal city slicker, that just sounds weird, and to them it makes you a bit of a nutter. But it’s actually an incredibly interesting and amazing experience!
When I first met Joelle, my fiancée, one of the first topics that came up were, “What do you like doing?”. My answer: “I like to go looking for frogs” (I thought it might not be too cool to start off with ‘frogging’). You could see the surprise in her face after that, and she had a good giggle. I wasn’t sure if that it was a good thing or not at the time, but it turned out to be okay.
Nowadays, Joelle and I spend many of our spring and summer nights out in search of these unique animals. It can become a very addictive hobby, but that’s never a bad thing. One cannot ever spend too much time in nature.
So, a normal night of frogging entails going walking out into a wetland, along a stream, or around a pond or dam. Wherever there’s water, in the right season, there will be frogs. You will not get bored, nor will you leave disappointed!
Here in South Africa, we’re very lucky to have some really pretty and amazing frog species, and there’s around 120 +- of them! For those of us who live in KwaZulu-Natal, we could say that we are the most fortunate. We have the highest diversity of frogs in the country, which occur in some breathtakingly beautiful areas. Start taking advantage of this privilege!
“What do I need to go frogging?”
- Gum boots, but if you happen to go in a tricky-to-navigate area, and really don’t want to get wet or muddy, get yourself a pair of waders. But getting water-filled boots, and ‘sloshing’ around in them is part of the experience.
- A torch: Headlamps are nice, especially if you are wanting to photograph frogs. However, you may receive a good intake of protein during the night, as insects may swarm around your light, and you’ll end up NOT going hungry that night. So sometimes hand-held torches are best. It isn’t always like that though, in fact it rarely is that bad. Don’t let it put you off!
- A camera: Learning to identify frogs, like with any group of animals, can be tricky. So taking photos, whether it be with your cell phone or camera, helps in this regard. It allows you to go back home, look up your books, or search the internet or post on Facebook, and will eventually help you in identifying the frog you saw. But this isn’t a necessity.
- Enthusiasm, patience, an open mind, and a desire to learn: Don’t go expecting to walk away clean, seeing every frog species that occurs in the area. That’s not how this works! Some species are quite easy to spot, others can be frustratingly difficult. It can be calling right by your feet, and you still won’t spot it! But enjoy the challenge. Also, to improve your experience, go with an open mind. Don’t just go wanting to see frogs, and nothing else. There’s so much more to see!
As I have just mentioned, there’s so much more to see than just the frogs. I have been lucky enough to see animals such as owls, mongoose, snakes, chameleons, interesting-looking insects, fascinating spiders and more! So, even if you don’t see many frogs, you’ll be captivated by the other wildlife which is attracted to bodies of water. Walking during the day, and walking at night, are completely different. Night time is like another world, where all the species which hide away during the day, become active. Sometimes, animals are easier to spot while they sleep rather than when they’re active during the day, like chameleons. It’s an exciting time!
You can have some pretty spectacular sightings of these animals while out frogging too. I have watched snakes, crabs, spiders and a Giant Water Bug catching and eating frogs. I’ve seen spiders with babies on the backs, and a spider which caught a small fish.
It is the frogs, however, which is what you did come to see in the first place.There’s so many different-looking species to admire! From the bizarre-looking Platanna’s in the water, to the colourful Reed Frogs in the reeds (of course), or the gorgeous Tree Frogs perched high above the water, you will be captivated!
You get to learn more about their behaviour too. I’ve watched male frogs fighting for a calling spot, which is hilarious to watch! They wrestle and try to kick each other off the prized-perch, it’s really entertaining.
They also make different sounds when fighting. Try to learn the calls, by observing a particular species calling if possible. The other alternative is buying the field guide or app to the frogs of SA, both come with the calls.
Of course, there’s also a good chance of you seeing frogs mating, producing the next generation of mosquito-eaters. Not something you see during your normal day.
Frog calls, ringing through your ears, is a surreal experience. It’s nature’s very own music. It can be soothing and calming, but if a lot of Painted Reed Frogs are chirping away, with their high-pitched, short whistles, you may get a headache if I’m honest.
The dangers of frogging…
Frogging, like with any outdoor activity, has it’s dangers. We do live in Africa after all!
Crime is obviously your number one concern. Instead of being wary of snakes or spiders (if you fear them), be more wary of nasty humans! But I must say, I have never heard of anyone being mugged while out frogging. Always be safe rather than sorry though. So always go in a small group. A large group of you (more than ten or so) can cause damage to the habitats that you unavoidably trample through. A group of four or five is ideal.
I’m fortunate enough to say that I have never had a bad experience with humans, while out frogging (*touch wood!). I have only had one unexpected human sighting, which wasn’t life-threatening, well, to me anyway.
I had come across what looked like a body bag, next to a wetland just north of Durban. For some reason, I cannot explain why, but I gave this red cover a good kick, out of curiosity. A low-pitched groan echoed from it, and a man popped out from underneath the cover! I got the fright of my life! I shouted to my friends, who came and surrounded him. We all had bright torches in his face, and we all had some form of weapon (carry something with you, like pepper spray, to be safe). Turned out to be a poor homeless man trying to get some sleep. He could have chosen a better spot…
In some parts of the country, like Zululand for example, there is another potential threat, or two. Hippos, and crocodiles! Going walking around pans where these animals occur isn’t wise, and it’s asking for trouble. Stick to places where you know they don’t occur.
Another experience of mine worth mentioning…
I was in Hluhluwe, exploring a flooded pan on a small game farm. We went there regularly, and often went frogging. We had only seen one croc there before, but it was a small one and had since left the area. On this occasion, there had never been so much water in the dams, which overflowed and formed a pan. I was wading almost waste-high, when suddenly, a crocodiles head popped up two to three meters from me. I froze for a second, and started moving back slowly, and then as I got to more shallow parts, my speed picked up! When getting a better look at the head, from land, the crocodile was actually rather small. But still…it was a real eye-opener!
Sadly, amphibians are the fastest-disappearing group of vertebrates in the world. That’s a scary fact. There are different reasons for that, which can be discussed on another day, but they’re all human-induced causes of course.
Frogs are truly unique animals, in their life-cycles and nature. They serve a very important purpose in our environment too, as predators and as a food source for many different animals.
Now that spring is here, try and make time to go frogging with some friends. Appreciate and admire all the life you see on this special adventure. It’s a great way to socialise, much better than being in a pub or night club. You’ll enjoy yourself, especially if you go with a positive frame of mind. You could have a good laugh or two, as sometimes, a member of your party may sink in the mud or fall in the water! Joelle and I have experienced this predicament on a few occasions, and you just have to laugh it off. Well, as long as no one gets hurt, and no valuables are damaged, then it can be funny…
Not many better ways to spend a night than out in the bush, frogging!
Please note: When out frogging, please treat the habitat and animals with respect. Please also note that capturing and keeping a frog as a pet will be a death-sentence for the poor frog. There is no market value to them either. Let’s leave the frogs where they belong 🙂
All photos by Nick Evans