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A Reliable Frog

For most of July a small frog has been holding vigil over the front door every day and under the porch light every night. We have come to know each other’s habits and routines, getting more comfortable together with each passing day.

The boards of the board-and-batten siding around the front door reach from ground level up to ~16 inches above the door frame, where they meet the bottom edge of the portico that covers the entryway. The space above the doorframe is frequented – – as are all the other outer parts of my home structure – by all kinds of critters. Mason bees (Osmia conjuncta) drill holes wherever they damn please and nothing can be done to stop them, short of building with something other than wood. Mud dauber wasps (Sceliphron caementarium) make homes willy-nilly and I pay them no mind because they’re not aggressive and won’t sting unless aggressively provoked. Paper wasps (Polistes exclamans) are more threatening to humans, but for some reason the nests they begin to construct around the doorways don’t ever seem to get bigger than a handful of cells. Green anole lizards (Anolis carolinensis) crawl and leap from walls to plant leaves and back again, changing their color from green to brown as needed to blend. Spiders abound, but generally I see many more webs, or their remnants, than the crafters who made them.

To both sides of the front door are small porch lights, each bulb encased in a white metal frame. Just below the porch light to the right of the door a sculpted lion’s head is mounted to the wall, about 6 inches below the light.

One evening in early July I was coming into the house and noticed a little frog sitting on the crest of the lion’s mane, patiently awaiting whatever bug might next be attracted to the porch light and meet its end at the tip of the frog’s tongue. So cute, the little frog, about the size of a wadded-up tissue, sitting on the lion’s head, eating with wild abandon all night long.

Early the next morning when I left the house for my morning swim I didn’t see the frog, but when I returned I found the frog hiding behind a decrepit spider web above the door, in a perfectly-sized little hidey-hole between the top of a board and the porch ceiling. All I could see was the underside of its throat, pulsing in and out with every breath, and little bulgy eyes poking out from the top of its head.

Frog behind a spider web, in the company of a tiny snail

I giggled! I laughed! I gave a little “Whoopee!” and thanked the frog for being my door guardian, for however long it might stay.

Louisiana is home to more than thirty species of frogs and toads. This particular one is, I believe, a Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis), a species that remains mostly in low trees and shrubs near water, going to the ground only in mating season; as with most frogs, the eggs are laid in water. The male of this species is characterized by its black chin. Because this frog’s chin is white, because this frog makes me so happy, and in an irrational fit of anthropomorphizing to which no self-respecting biologist should admit, I have named her Felicity.

Each time I go in and out the door I look up, speak to her and give her a little wave. At night she sits on top of the lion, moving only enough to keep her within tongue’s reach of the wall where the insects alight as she gulps down the mosquitoes that otherwise would be biting me, because that’s how it is with me and mosquitoes.

Dinnertime, all night long

Her shape blends perfectly with the crest of the lion’s mane, a fact that helps keep her safe from the barred owls (Strix varia) that live in the surrounding woodlands and could easily make her into their own nighttime meal.

Barred owl, a frog’s nightmare (Photo by Mark Fuller)

She spends the days in her cubby, safe and out of sight … unless it rains. When water comes out of the sky she comes out of her hiding spot to sit on the porch light, or on the lion’s head, or on one of the front porch plants, resting from gluttonous nights and letting her skin soak in the sweet moisture. Once she spent an entire day sitting, utterly still, on the leaf of a porchside night-blooming cereus plant and it took every ounce of my will power not to pet her. I talked and cooed and laughed to her. I reached out my finger and wiggled it up and down in a close-up, one-fingered wave, but I would not let myself try to touch her because she deserves to be respected and the very, very last thing I’d ever want is to scare her away.

On most days, though, shortly after I turn off the porch light she nimbly makes her way up the wall, back to her single-frog-sized perch above the fray.

Sometimes Felicity is visited by her friend, Split, a lizard with a forked tail.

Frog and lizard

Like the frog, this lizard has been hanging around our entryway for at least a month.

Green anole lizards abound in our climate, so it is a rare privilege to recognize any particular one. Unlike Felicity, Split tends to wander and is rather unpredictable, but he seems to enjoy being near his frog buddy.

Lizard and frog bffs, playing camouflage hide and seek

Displaying an apparent knack for making friends, Felicity was even visited by a Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea) that found her own tiny hiding place a few inches away from Felicity, but their play date lasted only one day.

Frog staring contest

I have learned again and again to expect my encounters with such critters to be brief. The animals come and go, and for one to engage in such a predictable and long-lasting routine is extremely rare. Each time I speak to this frog I tell her I hope she’ll be there the next time I pass by, but if she leaves I wish her well and am grateful for the time she’s allowed me to share with her.

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  1. Love Felicity and Split….still miss T….. I love getting to be with you and your critters. It’s as close to being there as I can.

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