Rain may be softly hitting the shingles making pitter patter a decibel below that of a pin dropping, but the frogs let me know when beads of any size are falling from the sky. Unified, they enter into an unwelcome symphony of croaks and ribbits played fortissimo that rings in my ears.
I have been a frog lover tracing back to my toddler days spent searching for them and their toad counterparts in my family’s small front yard water garden. Frog paraphernalia peppered the shelves in my room—figurines, wooden toys, t-shirts with colorful frog designs. My younger sister even painted the frog graphic from one of my toddler tees onto a canvas to adorn the sanitarium white walls of my college dorm room.
But the croaking interrupting my island sleep cycle had to stop.
Contrary to the regional implications of its name, the Cuban tree frog is native to the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands in addition to Cuba.(1) This amphibian is one of only two frog species native to the Bahamas.(2) Over the years, the Cuban tree frog has become a nuisance to regions of southern Florida, where its invasive presence has pushed out other competing frogs endemic to the region. The University of Florida’s Citizen Scientist project even went as far as to incite public initiative to eradicate the species, calling upon locals to capture and humanely euthanize the animal.(1) For some people, it doesn’t take much convincing when they’re looking to lock up the relentless, croaking sleep robbers of the night.
The Cuban tree frog is most easily identified by its pervasive and annoying mraaak! mating call.(1) With almost all frog species, the male is the only one who croaks. His call beckons females and warns other males of territory. Why do frogs croak in the rain? Most scientists believe they are anticipating the increase in natural breeding grounds created by the wet environment, where puddles become nests for egg laying. (Remember, with animals, it’s all about sex and reproduction.)
The most recent IUCN census reported that nearly one third of the planet’s 6,000+ species of amphibians is red listed.(3) This decline is linked to such anthropogenic causes as pollution, habitat loss, and the politically debated climate change. Amphibians’ thin, sensitive skin allows pollutants to seep in easily, leading to catastrophic and often fatal health issues. As such, these animals are key indicators of changes in the surrounding environment.(4)
Surprisingly, the threat of extinction is highest in the Caribbean. In 2008, the IUCN found over 80% of the Caribbean amphibian population to be in jeopardy.(3) However, most species of the Bahamas have been left untouched.(2) Perhaps these statistics are due to the diversity and longitudinal stretch of this Caribbean archipelago.
If our property is a microcosm of the Cuban tree frog population at large in the Bahamas, the species is thriving. The well on our property has proven time and again to be both a blessing and a curse. Abandoned for the last three years, sufficient time passed by for the coconut telegraph to get around Long Island, letting all the Cuban tree frogs know of a plausible reproductive zone in an otherwise salt water-laden land. Though the well contains brackish water, it supports a tadpole community in the hundreds. Many of the tadpoles found their way into our septic tank in the beginning phases of renovation before electricity allowed us running water and we were forced to dump buckets of well water into the backs of the toilets for systematic flushing.
The statistics and my animal-loving heart laid out before me, I was not about to embark upon a mass extermination of the night stealers outside my window. And so it began one rainy and windy night, when the temporary cover for the well blew off and mature frogs began hopping into the naturally man-made tidal pool, that I climbed into the foreboding depths to capture the first subject of my Frog Relocation Program.
Next to our property is a half-mile long private runway that’s seen better days. At its end is a scenic view of mangroves surrounding an inlet, and it is there that the first release took place, in an uninhabited, distant location full of tropical brush supporting an array of diverse prey. The subjects have been released at other various abandoned locales where they will become no one else’s nuisance but be given a second chance. Though I’m still determining where I can re-home the tadpole population on an island lacking fresh water sources, I strive to practice humane pest control. With the exception of mosquitoes (because their main purpose on this earth is to make miserable the innocent), I try to follow the adage, “Live and let live.” In the end, I think we’re all better off.
(3) IUCN Red List