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Nature's Best by Elma Chapman - Frogs

Last week there was a very interesting program presented by Courtney Franke at Bonneyville Mill in Elkhart County. The topic was frogs. A small group of children and adults gathered at the Briar Patch Shelter and were briefed on what frogs are: amphibians. A lot of the talk was aimed at the kids, reinforcing what should be basic science class knowledge, but it was delivered in a highly entertaining manner and made for a good refresher course for the adults present. To discuss the differences between reptiles and amphibians, Franke had two of the children come forward and don ponchos. One was a scaly material and the other was smooth. Since amphibians don’t have claws, the amphibian child put on some gloves to cover her fingernails, while the reptile child had gloves with long claws attached. To complete the outfits, Franke produced two Halloween masks, one a dinosaur or lizard with teeth and one was a frog mask—no teeth.

After the discussion, Franke brought out a jar of tadpoles and talked about the life-cycle of frogs and toads. Some frogs, like bullfrogs, take two years to move from egg to tadpole to adult. There were also four adult frog species shown to the audience: a wood frog, a leopard frog, a green frog, and a bullfrog. We got to compare the webbed feet of the bullfrog with the suction cup pads on the feet of the wood frog. As a final display, a tiger salamander was brought out for all to see.

Following this, we hiked to a nearby vernal pond (one that usually dries up in the summer) to listen for frogs. A light rain started to fall and the frogs were happy. We heard lots of spring peepers and also chorus frogs. It was a delightful way to end the program.

This past Tuesday I got to share some of my Master Naturalist enthusiasm with some second graders from Wolcott Mills. They spent the morning on a field trip to Dallas Lake County Park. The theme was “Changes.” In their classroom they are raising some tadpoles, so the talk was about changes in nature, especially seasonal changes. Scott Beam wowed the kids with his magic acts: the sap bucket that kept refilling itself, the leaf scarves that changed colors in his hand, the tree trunk that grew out of the acorn, and others. He talked about creatures that grew up versus creatures that changed. The word of the day was metamorphosis. After the talk in the lodge, we went outside to look for and listen to frogs, particularly chorus frogs and spring peepers at this time of year. Of course, the frogs were having none of that and they stoutly refused to do any singing for our band of explorers. The birds, however, favored us with their songs, particularly the red-winged blackbirds. The kids at the front of the line saw a few frogs leap into the pond as we neared, but those of us at the back of the line mostly saw just the front of the line. A garter snake was discovered and caused enthusiasm in some and hysteria in others.

After the lengthy hike, we returned to the lodge for our next adventure and lo and behold—there was a little gray tree frog under one of the picnic tables. He was immediately surrounded by excited second graders, but fortunately he was safely removed by Mr. Beam after everyone had a chance to examine the frog up close.

The final part of the program was a scavenger hunt to find things that were changing in nature. We located wildflowers like the hepatica, rue anemone, trillium, and May apples, found flowering trees, and investigated holes in the ground. Pretty much everything is new and exciting when you’re in second grade! And getting kids outside with an opportunity to explore nature and observe it first hand is extremely important if we are to have the next generation of scientists, ecologists, and environmentalists.