Friday, July 15, 2011

Frogs in the Kitchen - and Other Thirsty Critters

Rio Grande Chirping Frog

This is the worst drought in Texas’s weather history.  Along with the drought comes record breaking heat.   During last week’s prairie restoration workday, the Master Naturalists encountered lots of thirsty critters.  Animals that were naturally shy, reclusive, or nocturnal exposed themselves for a chance to reach water. 

Because of the drought, our usual prairie planting activities have halted.  Instead, we water.   John S., Tom B. and I drove into Attwater’s Prairie Chicken territory with a 275 gallon water tank and a bunch of buckets to care for our spring transplants.   Tom B., with his raptor-like vision, noticed that when he poured a gallon of water on a Yellow Indian Grass, little cotton rats would scurry out from deep cracks in the clay.  The usually timid rats would try desperately to lap the water before it vanished into the parched ground. As we filled containers, water sloshed forming a small muddy spot.  Two little sulfur butterflies soon settled on the puddle to sip.  Back at the tractor barn, we saw Texas City Prairie Preserve’s resident family of Crested Caracaras  swooping in to dip their beaks in a cow’s water trough.   Tom observed a swarm of honey bees that clustered briefly on a dripping water tank so the colony could drink. 

In my home, twice this week, I have found frogs in the kitchen.  The tiny Rio Grande Chirping Frogs, Eleutherodactylus (Syrrhophus) cystignathoides,  have come inside searching for water.  This desperate survival measure must be something other local frogs are trying:  Tom B. said he also found a frog in his kitchen this week.  He discovered a Green Treefrog, Hyla cinerea, soaking in the dog’s water bowl. 
Like other folks, I try to help:  I keep four birdbaths filled.  One of those is a dish hanging against the trunk of a shrubby tree.  Hopping from a nearby fence line, the squirrels can reach this sheltered water source without ever touching the ground.   Green anoles climb to sip in the shade.    For frogs, toads and geckos, I put a pan on the ground, near a popular amphibian hang-out.  I placed smooth stones around and inside the pan, so little critters could get in and out easily.      
Using  a critter catcher, a Schwegler Naturschutz, I scooped him up and took him outside. Can you see him? (Rio Grande Chirping Frog.) 

Rio Grande Chirping Frog:  Notice the pointed nose and dark spots,

as well as the dark stripe from eye to nose - all identifying features.

The tangle of dog fuzz from my kitchen floor was quite a handicap.  This frog was tired and easy to rescue.

Eleutherodactylus (Syrrhophus) cystignathoides are tiny, fast and secretive.  They are hard for me to photograph.  Thus I had to get lots of pictures of this one.

Rio Grande Chirping Frog making his exit from the critter catcher

An early-rising anole darted after him here, so I intervened and scooped him up again. (Rio Grande Chirping Frog)

 I put him down near my amphibian watering bowl. (Rio Grande Chirping Frog)