The pond, once brimful of brekkekkek-kexing, has become virtually silent. What's happened to all the frogs? Is it acid rain? Or is it the great blue herons who patrol the shoreline morning and evening?
I think we've located the culprit. The pond has been colonized by catfish, specifically, by the brown bullhead or horned pout. Omnivores that they are, the pouts must have been dining on those gelatinous strings of frog eggs, or perhaps even hunting down the tadpoles. At least that's the theory.
To reproduce, pouts scoop out a nest near the shoreline and deposit a cluster of eggs. Then they hover nearby for a week or so, fanning the area with their tails. One pair made a nest just where we enter the pond to swim and they were guarding their clutch a little too aggressively, so I decided to take action. There I was, spade in hand and poised to strike. I felt as though I was a figure in a diorama at the natural history museum -- "Paleolithic Man Hunted Fish with Sharpened Sticks." My technique might have been primitiive, but nevertheless I managed to nail one of the ugly suckers -- a twelve inch guy with a flat face covered with nasty barbels -- and a few minutes later I planted him in the vegetable garden, where he's now recycling himself into tomatoes. Later in the summer, a guest caught a second pout with a net. More juicy red tomatoes.
But what about the hatchlings and fingerlings? Perhaps the herons are on our side. Meanwhile, we'll put out a call for a fisherman. Although horned pouts are hideous, they're reputed to be good table fare -- not my table, however.
We're looking forward to a froggy renaissance.
September 5. I've now read in Scientific American that herons kill and eat catfish. They spear them with their long beaks, carry them to dry ground, and repeatedly wound them. Then they swallow them whole. So when the herons come to visit the pond, we'll have to maintain both distance and silence and let them work. It's good to know that the great blues are our allies.