𝐍𝐨𝐭𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐧 𝐚 𝐛𝐞𝐚𝐮𝐭 𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐭𝐥𝐞 𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐧𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐬𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐠𝐬 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐟𝐚𝐦.
For us, last Fridays humid conditions coupled with a significant rainfall event inundating the entire south-east of Australia meant one thing. In a nutshell, it meant frogs. There was one majestic species in particular hailing from the riverina district up north of my joint that might be on the cards. A huge trough was dragging tropical moisture from the north-west of the continent directly into the distributional zone of this leviathan. These powerful burrowers could potentially be triggered into coming to the surface in these idyllic weather conditions I thought. So a plan was hatched to road cruise in an effort to locate the mighty Giant Banjo Frog 𝑳𝒊𝒎𝒏𝒐𝒅𝒚𝒏𝒂𝒔𝒕𝒆𝒔 𝒊𝒏𝒕𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒐𝒓𝒊𝒔 across the state border in southern New South Wales on that Friday night.
We piled into the car on Friday afternoon and drove through constant, driving rain for around 3 hours, eventually crossing the border on the Murray River and arriving in Albury. We had booked a room in town prior to leaving, as we all weren't too keen on making a camp in the atrocious conditions on offer. After dark, we headed out of the town and began cruising along a quiet country road. We could make out the dim lights of random farmhouses along this road through the pouring rain. We noticed that there were concentrations of many frogs of the smaller and more commonly occurring species on certain sections of the road. These hot spots were invariably in close proximity to farm dams. The grazed paddocks adjoining this road were largely cleared, though we could make out some remnant eucalypt woodland tracts within some of them and these tracts were scattered along sections of the road verge as well. After a few laps of this road without success, the rain eased off for a brief period. This break coincided with us all screaming in excitement as we simultaneously spotted a huge female Banjo Frog plonked on the road ahead! Fortunately, this window in the weather also allowed me to photograph her with my dignity intact. I was grateful that Kelly's pastel brolly I had grabbed to protect the gear in case it was bucketing down could stay put. I was relieved that Mary Poppins got the night off.
It was a great moment to find and then collectively experience this stunning, maximal-sized Banjo Frog in her habitat. We all watched her hop off into the darkness after we got a few parting shots. I'll not ever forget the look of awe on Indigo's face when first confronted with this giant, breathing ball of colour. To top the night off, we even managed an encounter with another local burrowing species on the drive back into Albury. It was a really cool little mission.
Copyright Rob Valentic Gondwana Reptile Productions
𝐂𝐨𝐯𝐢𝐝-𝟏𝟗 𝐋𝐨𝐜𝐤𝐝𝐨𝐰𝐧 𝐇𝐞𝐫𝐩𝐢𝐧𝐠
After a decade of living at the same address, I thought there wouldn't be too many surprises in the way of new species of reptile or frog that occurred around the house in store, particularly when one considers that historically the immediate area was a featureless grassland plain and the overall diversity of species on offer is low anyhow.
But in the wettest season I've had here prior to the one Melbourne is experiencing right now, back in the summer of 2010, I was both shocked and elated to hear a few soft, sporadic calls of Sudell's Frog 𝑵𝒆𝒐𝒃𝒂𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒉𝒖𝒔 𝒔𝒖𝒅𝒅𝒆𝒍𝒂𝒆 coming from the other side of the railway line. The calls were emanating from a grazed paddock not 200 metres from the house and I couldn't believe it! I wanted to go over there and investigate, but I was just too hammered after partying with my mate Shane Black for a few days. Ironically, he was leaving for the drive back to Sydney and I'd gone outside to see him off when I first heard those calls. I resigned myself to investigate the paddock on the following night after a decent bit of shut eye. However, it was not to be and those calls ceased right there. Despite all my efforts to hear them calling following any significant rainfall events over the ensuing ten years, those initial calls had haunted me ever since.
Well, on the coldest mid-winter week, during the wettest year we've ever had here, I was ecstatic to hear once again that familiar call in the distance that I had yearned to hear for so long! I was chopping some wood for the fire at about 10pm on a dismal night in 4 degrees Celcius! I raced inside and threw on the thermals and head torch. Bolting across the railway line, I jumped the fence and made a beeline for that call. I coaxed him to call more frequently as I got closer by playing back his own call, having recorded it on the phone. It was a slow process, but I got close to his position in a seepage along the embankment of a dam in around twenty minutes. Once I got really close however, he shut down completely. I closely scrutinized the general area that I deduced he was in for about ten minutes. Finally, as I was just about to give up, I could make out a portion of his mottled back pattern beneath a maze of overlying grass swards. He was remarkably camouflaged as he lay motionless whilst completely submerged in the shallow, muddy water within a hoof print!
I felt so privileged to experience this encounter. It was so cool to examine and then obtain a few shots of this frog. For me, any of the burrowing frogs are highly appealing. I particularly love the 𝑵𝒆𝒐𝒃𝒂𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒉𝒖𝒔 genera though. They've got that ancient look to them, like they've been around for a bloody long time and its easy to get lost staring into those large, intricate eyes. Sudell's Frogs are indeed living fossils, based on samples from the Nullarbor Plain; "A second larger myobatrachid is the best represented of the three species, and its ilial morphology matches that of the extant 𝑵𝒆𝒐𝒃𝒂𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒉𝒖𝒔 𝒔𝒖𝒅𝒆𝒍𝒍𝒊. All three species were present in the early Pleistocene, but only 𝑵. 𝒔𝒖𝒅𝒆𝒍𝒍𝒊 is recorded in the middle Pleistocene" (Tyler & Prideaux, 2016). This would indicate that the species we are looking at in these images has remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of thousands, if not up to one million years! Their behavior of spending prolonged periods in dormancy, slumbered deep like the Kraken, only to suddenly reappear on the surface fleetingly after flooding rains before disappearing once more, only adds to their intrigue.
Over the following few freezing nights I managed to hear just 6 widely spaced frogs calling intermittently from that paddock of around 8 hectares in size and doing so in temperatures as low as 3 degrees C. Sadly, this localized cluster will be completely eliminated by a housing estate in the next few years. Few will ever know or care about those unique little frogs that continue to lay hidden below the earth as they've done for hundreds of thousands of years in that very paddock. But I'll care. Once they've started, the bulldozers will obliterate their legacy in the course of just a few weeks, and what has endured an eternity, will be gone in a flash.
Tyler, M.J. & Prideaux, G.J., 2016. Early to middle Pleistocene occurrences of Litoria, Neobatrachus and Pseudophryne (Anura) from the Nullarbor Plain, Australia: first frogs from the "frog-free zone". Memoirs of Museum Victoria 74: 403-408. http://doi.org/10.24199/j.mmv.2016.74.28
Copyright Rob Valentic Gondwana Reptile Productions