by Paul Cormacain
SO when did I last see a frog? Well, they are highly visible in the breeding season, which may start in December and last into March. It is then very easy to spot them hopping across roads to reach their traditional patch of breeding water.
At that time they are also highly visible hopping across fields for the same purpose. Their home for the duration is a stretch of temporary, or permanent, water, and the adults will breed, lay eggs, socialise, then take off for a lonely existence.
Now is lonely existence time. The frog will live a solitary life on 'terra firma', tends not to go near water, and might shelter from predators by hiding under a stone. So, unusually, I saw a number of frogs recently. They were all this year's, as you could tell from the size. They were all living in long grass, none of them wanted anything to do with humans and only tried to get as far away from me as possible. None of them were near to any other frog, which backs up the fact of their solitary existence.
Some years would go by when I would not see a frog in the summer. Some years I would perhaps see one or two frogs, but this year I have seen many more than usual. So I wonder why! Are there many frogs out there? Has any one seen any mature frogs, rather than this years breed? Are there more frogs about? Are humans kinder to frogs, which might encourage a growth in frog numbers? Has anybody any ideas
We will return to frogs in the winter, when the adults all turn up to breed in their traditional localities. Another common creature at the moment is the great black slug. Ok, it is supposed to be common, and its size can make it highly visible, but it is sup-posed to shelter away from the heat during the day. I did not see much sign of sheltering, rather I saw the creatures crawling about in broad daylight. The drying effects of the sun did not seem to be a priority for them.
Between Britain and Ireland we have something like 23 species of slug. The great black is one of the largest, as well as one of the most common. While the likes of the garden snail has a shell to protect it, the great black has no such refinement. So in theory it could dry out with the heat of the sun, which just makes me think that our much welcomed and praised sun may not have been all that hot. Even if we did run around in shorts!
The lack of shell has another effect on slugs. They are much more vulnerable to attack by predators. When the slug is crawling along the ground it does look large, perhaps up to 15 cms long. This makes it easy to see, and makes it look like a substantial meal for a predator. So how has mother nature given it protection?
If a bird comes along and looks like a diner, the slug starts to contract. It brings the head and tail parts of the body closer, and shapes itself like a semicircular ball. Say, half a ball! Its exterior is now very tough, and birds do not seem to be able to come to terms with this fact. Perhaps that accounts for the fact that the creature is so common. If you come across a great black slug, you can approach it without touching it. It will then look on you as a predator, and form itself into a half ball shape. Fascinating!
Without the shell, the slug needs some form of keeping damp. It needs to prevent its body from drying out. The substance which performs this useful mini miracle is mucus. So slugs have a layer of sticky mucus over their bodies, and when you look at them closely you will see their sliminess. It can appear repulsive to some, but when you get used to the reasons for its existence, it just becomes and appears a completely natural thing.
This sliminess has another purpose. It makes it difficult for birds to grasp the slimy body. The sliminess also helps the slug in moving over rough surfaces, when the slime acts as a protection interposed between the sharp object and the body. It also helps the slug to climb up smooth surfaces.
The books say that the great black slug likes fresh fruit like strawberries. But I have to say that I have yet to see the slug at our strawberries. But the fruit is decimated, in fact there is not now enough to make some jam. And the culprits? Why those lovely black-birds that we provide food for all the year round, they are to be seen gorging on strawberries. The black-birds who live here are all guilty, but I am convinced that the word goes out that out fruit is lovely, and ready, and first come, first served. Perhaps I shall put some netting over some of the strawberries, so that the great black slugs can come in and have a wee feast in safety!
Friday July 1 to Wednesday, August 31: Castle Espie is hosting a Feathertastic Trail, a self guided trail for all the family, sounds fantastic. Contact Espie on 028 9187 4146 for details.
Sunday, July 31: Join the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group for Whale Watch Day, starting at noon in the Portrush Countryside Centre, more from 028 7082 3600.
Wednesday, August 3: Guided Walk on Bog Meadows, at 1900, contact Wildlife Trust on 028 4483 0282
Saturday, August 6: Canoe the river Blackwater, details from Oxford Island on 028 3832 2205
Sunday, August 7: Guided Walk on Bog Meadows, at 1400, call Wildlife Trust on 028 4483 0282
Tuesdays August 2, 9, 16, 23: Environment Matters Talks at 1930, talks by local experts on environmental topics, in Portrush Countryside Centre, details phone 028 7082 3600.