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What Killed My Frog?

Thursday, August 8, 2019

I hadn't gotten too attached to this frog; we'd just made friends, and it had just connected me with good things like mealworms. But it still was a punch to the gut when I saw it suspended, little fingers splayed, eyes hooded, halfway down in the 3' deep pond. I knew right away it was dead. I've seen that float before.

I didn't have my phone with me, and it seemed disrespectful to shoot a photo of the frog like that anyway, when it couldn't say no. Besides, I had to fish it out quickly and see if there was any life in it at all, because helping creatures is what I always try to do first.

Nope, it was stiff and still. Ahhh how sad. I noted immediately that it was very fresh. No bloating, no odor; eyes still perfectly clear. But why and how had it died? I'd fed it two Superworms on July 29. And this was August 4. Could they have chewed a hole somewhere in its gut and killed it slowly, by  infection of peritonitis? Seemed unlikely. But then again...maybe the timing was right for a death that. Being the Science Chimp, and easily consumed by guilt, I had to know if I'd had an inadvertent hand in the frog's death.

I'm gonna ease you into this now with a little dissertation on the frog's tongue. From here, it gets more graphic, but it isn't gross. It's interesting. The more sensitive among you might want to stop here. You've been alerted. 

I opened the frog's mouth, to see if it might have choked on something, and was arrested by its amazing tongue. I'd seen that tongue deployed as it swiftly unfurled and blapped onto the mealworms I'd tossed. But I never realized that it is actually turned back on itself, and its side flaps are folded under, as it rests in the frog's mouth.

Freaking fabulous!! I thought about the extra velocity that sticky tongue would have as it snapped out and simultaneously unfolded. Fwab-adap!

It's like the distal half of a heron's neck, which, when it strikes, whips out from a sort of hinge halfway up the neck. That hinge is the "kink" in the neck that we notice when the bird is at rest.

 Shot this fledgling green heron as it hunted dragonflies in a floating mat of vegetation in St. Mary's WV. You know how fast you have to be to grab a dragonfly? 

 The one that got away.

Throwing the neck (or the tongue) out from a short distance is the difference between a roundhouse punch from the shoulder and a quick jab thrown from the elbow.  The jab isn't as powerful, but it's much quicker, and quick is what you have to be to catch insects (or fish). Already, I was enjoying my foray into this frog's secrets.

But I knew it wasn't going to be all fun and games, playing with a frog tongue.

There was only one way to really determine whether a Superworm had killed this poor creature.
 It was time to open the frog. The skin was like the finest thin latex, and the whitish abdominal muscles had to be cut with a scissors, as did the breastbone, so I could completely retract the abdominal walls. And there were its organs, pretty much just like a person's, with less intestine.

I saw two blackish granular structures that looked like caviar, one on each side, and knew I'd found the frog's ovaries. Ahhh, damn. It had been a female.

Kinda surprised me, because the tympanum (round external ear membrane) was pretty large.  Males have larger tympanae than females. 
Gotta listen for those spring choruses, you know, to get in on the action.


OK. Time to haul out the stomach and intestines, and see if there was a giant mealworm in there, or at least a hole somewhere. The stomach was fine, pink, unperforated (to the left of the pliers). The duodenum looked discolored right below the stomach. I thought I might have found something incriminating.
But when I opened it up, there were no holes, and it appeared that what I was seeing was the color of recently digested food, through the translucent wall of the duodenum (small intestine). It was an orange-red paste that for all I know might once have been a baby comet. So much for that.

Everything else inside the frog looked fine. I opened the stomach and examined its contents. Not a trace of a Superworm. Duodenum had checked out fine. Opened the caecum and examined its contents. Just normal looking frog poo, loaded up to launch. Small insect bits discernible in the fecal material. No hard chitin from a Superworm, at all. That had already passed through. This animal had been eating and digesting normally right up to its death. Nothing was bloated, nothing perforated, no internal bleeding and nothing amiss that I could see.  I had to conclude that perforation by Superworm was not the cause of its death. Not to say it can't ever happen, but I'm confident it didn't happen to this frog.

But there was something amiss on the frog, and I wanted to think about that.

The animal's left leg was bruised, with a hemorrhage running down the calf. Its foot was pretty swollen and discolored, too.

On the dorsal side, there were two very fresh wounds. One, a jagged tear in the skin. It would have taken something quite sharp, dragging across the frog's thigh, to make that.

There was also a puncture wound, from which some muscle protruded. See the tip of the pliers here, pointing at it.  Hmmmm. I couldn't see how either of those wounds, though, would kill the frog. But they were so fresh, they had to have something to do with her death. 

I have to thank Liam for taking these photos. I couldn't take any shots while doing the dissection. It was worse than trying to make movies while feeding bats (something I got pretty good at, thanks to a small gift tripod and a nimble tongue).

This isn't a flattering shot, but it is 100% Science Chimp Zick. Completely absorbed in the pursuit of knowledge. And for that, I love it. It's me, and I like who I am, because being normal is boring, and glamor ceased to be part of my world a long time ago.

 As Liam commented when I asked him if I should publish this photo:  "Of all the photos of me tearing apart a dead animal, this is the worst!" Which sent me into gales of laughter. This kid. He's made me laugh all summer long. God, I'll miss him when he goes back to school.

 Nah, it's not a glamour shot, and I look like a gnome, like something that lives in a tower. Oh, wait...

Hi Bacon! Thanks for stopping into this post. I love you.

I was left stumped. I decided to wrap up the autopsy and mull on it for awhile. I'd found out what I could find out from this poor frog, so I wrapped her in wet newspaper and set her in a cool place until nightfall, when I could put her body out for the possum who visits our compost. What a nice surprise it would be for him! Nothing gets wasted around here. And everybody eats.

I excavated the rider mower from its tangle of lawn chairs and bikes, replaced the front wheel whose tire I'd flattened and given to Marcy to get fixed (thanks, Marcy!!) Started it up, and began the hypnotic round and round the house and plantings. I was about five rounds into the mow when it hit me. A cut and a puncture wound wouldn't kill a frog...would it...

unless there was venom in what cut and punctured it.

Which explains the swelling and discoloration very nicely. That's what my finger looked like once upon a time, when I reached under a lavender bush for a weed and felt a hot lance to my hand. THAT good, old story is here: Committed to the Country

Durn copperheads. I build you a nice patio to live in, and you thank me by killing my frog. You struck; she jumped; you raked her with one fang, but you hit pay dirt, and punctured her leg with the other. Still, she got away, and plopped into the pond, already dying, a foot down, where you couldn't recover her. Wasted. Unless you consider that it was all a nice mental workout for a curious Science Chimp, and some fairly graphic entertainment for a few thousand people. 

And maybe a nice solid bit of debunking on a factoid that ain't necessarily true. That said, I'm not feeding any more Superworms to frogs. Better safe than sorry.

This year's fine brace of copperheads. Mr. and Mrs. Fak. I'm sure their banded babes will turn up very soon. I just hope none are in the basement.

Still, I suspect one of you Faks also killed the two bullfrogs who moved in this spring. The hummingbirds and warblers and chipping sparrows and I thank you for that. 

Circle of life, baby. Like my John Deere and my mind, it goes around and around.

Before the crape myrtle got killed back to the ground. When Chet, my tractor,  the crape myrtle and I were newer, and still shiny.


Very cool, Ms. Z! I was rooting for the frog not to have been killed by Superworms. I am still very skeptical of that claim. Don't consider PetSmart to be a reliable source.

I wondered if your heron photo was meant as a lead-in to the frog being killed by a heron, which then dropped it. But then you summed it up very nicely with a missed copperhead strike!

Thanks for the story.

Best wishes,

The Boneman

Well, wow. Excellent detective work, Ms. Chimp.

Like being back in AP Biology for me.
I ended up a lit major, but I loved that bio class. Even dissecting didn't phase me, although it did some of my classmates. My partner and I investigated the uptake of radioactive iodine (I think) in mice. We looked at several different organs. Very cool--I loved it.


Brilliant as always 👍❤️

I’m not weeding anymore!! Frogs from my bitty pond go who used to catch & carry till I rescued them died!!

Copperheads are one thing we don't have to worry about . Massasauga rattlers are in Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve in Windsor, 60 miles away., other than that nothing venomous.

Oh man. You were bitten by a copperhead? Is there a blog post about that? If you have time will you publish the link?

I second Miz S's request! Fascinating post, even if I didn't peer at the dissection photos. The copperheads would worry me; glad to live west of the Cascades!

I have been binge watching the series Bones. Your post made me chuckle at your investigation. My condolences on your frog.

You had me at discoloration down the leg and puncture wound. At that point I knew it was one of your copperheads. Prolly not a good meal for the possum. 😘

I bet Ms Snek was miffed too at the waste of precious venom and the missed meal. You are Ohios David Attenborough!

@Miz S and @Michelle, here you go--the copperhead Zickbite story:
Enjoy it!!

Thanks! I enjoyed the story very much, wincing at the appropriate moments. Interesting tidbit of info that we are limited to one dose of antivenin in our lifetime. P.S. I love your blog, Julie.

Link here

You might have to copy & paste it...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Where in Ohio do you live? I live in No Ky

I’m 18 mi NE of Marietta. Southeast corner of Ohio.

I think you look extra beautiful in the funky photo. Not at all gnome-like.

If the possum eats the frog, will the venom still be active?

Great! It brought back memories of biology class and the bullfrog named Hercules that a lab mate and I rebuilt. Years after high school, I returned to that class and retrieved Hercules. He was my proudest moment in high school. I remember how fascinated my special parents were of the boiling, cleaning bones, reassembly process. Hercules still graces my 92-year old ma's 1880s farmhouse and will as long as she's still in it. Thanks for the sleuthing and pics...and triggered memories. Kim in PA

All very fascinating! Thank you and Liam for the pictures (you look gorgeous by the way). I always learn at least one thing from your posts.

Ooh that snake bite story, that’s a great one! This poor frog story is a good one, too.

Very cool. I was thinking maybe garter snake venom, after a friend's arm turned the color of an avocado after being bitten on the hand by a hungry garter snake she was hand-feeding. But I'd forgotten about your copperheads.

You are a beautiful writer and outstandingly interesting! Love reading your blogs and so happy that you are part of our Camp Oty'Okwa family!

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