A fellow told me the other day that he never laughed at frogs. Now, I've known this man for several years, and have considered him quite a well-rounded individual: versed in literature and painting and possessed of a reasonable knowledge of the other arts. But I'd never guessed that he had this blank about frogs. Imagine anybody not laughing at frogs! Something awful must have happened to this fellow in his childhood.
Of course, with the unprecedented growth of urban areas, there are a lot of people who don't get many chances to laugh at frogs, but when they do they react in the proper manner. It is not a case of laughing with frogs, mind you, but laughing at them. The frogs don't mind a bit, and the way they ham it up indicates these deadpan batrachian comics spend most of their time just trying to get laughs.
In the first place, frogs look like small people in formal attire. Some of them wear green tuxedos, even to a black spot on the throat for a bow tie. They sit on a lily pad, or even a gaudy flame flower, as on the opposite page, in complete dignity, and all of a sudden their throat swells out like a kid blowing bubble gum. At the same time they emit a sound that might be a Bronx cheer. Some climb trees and carry on this way. Others crawl in a hole and holler. Some hoot like owls and others let out cowboy yells. When they are smooching the boy holds the girl in his arms and wears a silly expression. And when they are singing they go through the antics of a comedy quartet.
Frogs are comical, yet at the same time their appearance indicates they are wise beyond their status in the biological scale. It may be their form, the way they sit down in such a thoughtful pose, or maybe it is those large, bulging eyes in that solemn face that creates the impression; but it has always seemed to me that frogs know a lot more than they're letting on about. Frogs, if you please, are many sided. Their life history is a fascinating story with many variations according to species.
The life of the individual frog is a series of adventures. He lives with a host of enemies right on his tail, or where his tail would be if he had one. He sits on the bank, and when an enemy approaches he makes a wild leap into the water. Like as not, something down there gets after him and he has to jump out on the bank again. Through all his trials he keeps his comical front to the world, never complaining except in the last extremity. Then he lets out a scream that curdles the blood.
THE TRUE SOUND OF SPRING
Frogs run the entire scale of personal appearance. Some, especially the toads, are homely; some people even call them ugly. Some are plain types dressed in drab colors. Others are beautiful, as the accompanying portfolio of tree frog portraits in color will prove.
Lastly, frogs have been around a long time. They have been on earth for nearly 200 million years. In fact, frogs were sitting around in Mesozoic swamps yelling their heads off in joyful chorus some hundred million years before man even got his start. My friend, Charles M. Bogert, frog student extraordinary, says it is probable that the first voice in existence was that of a frog. Furthermore, frogs are averse to change, preferring things the way they are. The remains of the earliest known frogs, dating back some 20 million years, are practically the same as the frogs of today.
Poets and other romanticists are always talking about the birds singing in the springtime. They try to indicate that birds are the heralds of spring. I've got nothing against bird-song—I like to sit under a tree listening to the birds just as much as the next fellow—yet I claim that a frog chorus is the true voice of spring. Birds usually sing alone to let other birds know they are on the job with the old nest-building chore.
But frogs assemble in large numbers in a suitable spot and all sing together. I'll admit their voices are not melodious. The calls of various species sound like snores, grunting swine, quacking ducks or screaming women. They emit extended whines, shrill peeps and trills. Theirs is like barroom singing—what it lacks in harmony it makes up for in zest and volume. Yet there is something deeply moving about a great frog chorus in the night; something primordial. And don't forget, the frogs were at it eons before the first bird chirped.