SANDOWN – The Old Home Days Committee is looking at modifying how the traditional frog jumping competition is handled during the annual summer festival. While things have been run in a certain way with the competition for years, the committee was recently approached by a concerned resident and someone who knows a thing or two about frogs. Their comments raised some red flags.
Beatrice Donohue, a science teacher and resident, has often gone to the jumping competition and found the event to be needlessly stressful for the amphibians. But she’s clear that she doesn’t want to shut down the entertaining event, she only wants to make a few small changes that she thinks would go a long way for the creatures at the mercy of their handlers.
Donohue said that from experience, she knows frogs’ physical limitations can make the event difficult for them. The Old Home Days Committee, led by chair Timothy Rand, spoke with Donohue at a recent meeting and was receptive to her suggestions. Rand thanked her for her input and involvement and by the end of the meeting it seemed as if the suggestions would not impede the competition but could make it bigger and better.
Frogs are an interesting species, said Donohue. They serve an important role as a barometer of environmental health, she said, explaining they are particularly sensitive to changes in their environments and thus can tell us a lot about what’s going on there. They can be kind of the “canary in the coal mine,” she said. This trait often makes frogs the focus of biological research.
Frog skins are highly permeable and are utilized for taking in oxygen and water, she added. For their skins to serve in respiration, they need to be moist, and the creatures can lose moisture through their skin just as readily as they absorb it. Because the skins are so permeable, they can absorb toxins through them as well.
This is key when you think about frogs being placed on the jumping course, which in Sandown is laid out on what is often hot asphalt. “So when you take a frog out of the water and put it on asphalt, it’s like putting your hand on a hot stove,” said Donohue. “It’s not that anyone is being cruel, they just don’t think of it.”
Donohue said that in the past she’s collected discarded frogs to move them back to the water. While the grass near the parking lot may seem habitable to the wildlife, it’s much too far from any water body for the small amphibians.
The committee members said that much of the information that Donohue presented was new to them. It wasn’t that anyone was purposely hurting the frogs, they just didn’t know any better. Rand said some education on frogs would be important because many of the issues presented aren’t on people’s radars, but are important for the frogs and the larger ecosystem.
As a result of Donohue’s comments, the competition will likely see some improvements. The Mothers Club, which sponsors and runs the contest, is working with the Old Home Days Committee and Donohue to make the changes.
Donohue suggested watering down the pavement to lessen the shock and damage to frogs as they jump. She volunteered to help with the contest and said she could provide a pool for the frogs to collect in after the jump, from where they could be taken to a pond or wetland.
Donohue is also looking at providing a tent for shade and some information about frogs, such as species, life cycles, diet and habitat, to make the event more of a teaching moment for the frog’s young handlers.
New Hampshire Fish and Game keeps an eye on frogs across the state, working with residents and researchers to understand how different populations are doing.
Kim Tuttle of New Hampshire Fish and Game said one clear thing that has come out of annual research is the fact that Bullfrog numbers are declining. The small Green Frog is the most common in the state, but there is some concern about the health of the Bullfrog population. Water pollution from pesticide use is a noted concern by Fish and Game.
These two frogs are the most accessible to young frog jump competitors. Tuttle noted that frogs should be returned to the same area from which they were taken. And, because of the frog’s specialized skin, it is important not to handle them with hands covered in insect repellants or sunscreen because the ramifications of getting those substances into the frogs is unknown.
For more information on frogs and for help in identifying their songs, visit www.wildlife.state.nh.us/Wildlife/Nongame/frogs.htm.