Wednesday 4 March 2009

Amplexus

A week ago, on the 23rd of February, I was walking at a Nature Reserve in Co. Wicklow with an old friend. How nice it was to see and hear and smell a touch of Spring, after the very long, very cold winter we have had. (Before it got wintry again this week!)
Towards the end of our rambling, we chanced upon the pond. Splash, rustle, ripple. Frogs were busy here. There we saw a couple together, male over female as frogs do. And as our eyes sharpened on our target, another couple and another. Some single frogs, sizing up the talent, no doubt, hung around the edges. And the merrily mated paddled and swam, clasped together in that strange embrace called "Amplexus".
The word comes from the Latin for "Embrace". The male frog, when woken from his winter stupor, calls from the edge of his pond for a female with his strange mournful cry. When he scores, so to speak, he clasps her from behind, around her waist, and thus linked, they swim together.
They can maintain this posture for long periods: swimming and making those characteristic splashings. The male grips firmly and cannot be loosened or shaken free. Eventually, the female begins to lay her eggs and as they leave her body, the male fertilises them.
Reaching the water, the eggs swell up and are the familiar frogspawn.
Though this was an artificial pond, it has been there for many years and always enjoys spectacular amounts of frog action. Years ago, when I was doing some volunteer work there, tracks could be seen every spring leading from all over the reserve. Up from the river's edge came the otter prints. Foxes left their oval pawmarks. Birds, dogs, everything eats frogspawn!
Spring is always hopeful. I had been sad, anxious over private worries. My friend had listened, as she so often has, patiently and sympathetically, as we walked.
Weather changes, that is its nature. Hope springs, that is nature too. The queer, unthinking, primitive dance of the mating frogs is a powerful strike for optimism.
My heart was as warmed by friendship as our faces were by sunshine, that lovely morning. It's time for the dormant, over-wintering buds to root and grow again.

3 comments:

Charlotte said...

So does "amplexus" refer exclusively to the mating of frogs, or does it apply to any other species? I love ridiculously specific language!

the wondering watcher said...

Toads, too, I'm pretty sure.
Don't know if any other fauna qualify.
Often a caption on a photograph, etc. "Frogs in amplexus"
Those silly YouTubes of three-headed frogs always turn out to be group amplexus.

Anonymous said...

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