Ribbit!… croak!… and some frog prints.

by sarahkburke

Frog in the Ellipse, courtesy of Elena Velkovska

Frog in the Ellipse, courtesy of Elena Velkovska

Spring is a terrific time to spot wildlife in the Ellipse fountain pool at Dumbarton Oaks. The aquatic habitat includes native water plants which, at this early point in the year, are still sparse—affording excellent views of turtles, fish, and frogs. Ducks are routinely spotted, and heron have ended the lives of several unfortunate amphibians.

As the days get warmer and flowers finally bloom (following a very long winter), enthusiasm for spring is taking over among the Staff and Fellows at Dumbarton Oaks. Many of us have been spotted acting like paparazzi, sneaking as stealthily as possible towards known frog habitats in an attempt to get a good glimpse (even a photograph) before being noticed. Soon we will be able to see tadpoles in the fountain pool. For now, the confident survivors of last summer dominate the space: large bullfrogs unfazed by approaching spectators.

15th-16th c. golden frog ornaments (Mixtec/Aztec), from "Gold of the Americas" by Julie Jones and Heidi King (2002)

15th-16th c. golden frog ornaments (Mixtec/Aztec), from “Gold of the Americas” by Julie Jones and Heidi King (2002)

All of this has led to a certain amount of frog frenzy, and some of us in the Library have started looking for frogs in our own habitat. Bridget Gazzo, Librarian for Pre-Columbian Studies, recently staged an exhibit on gold of the Circum-Caribbean world; the exhibit included a number of images of frogs, which were frequently rendered in gold in this region.

Chiriqui frog, from "Ancient Art of the Province of Chiriqui, Colombia," by William H. Holmes (1888)

Chiriqui frog, from “Ancient Art of the Province of Chiriqui, Colombia,” by William H. Holmes (1888)

We checked the Vienna Dioscorides for Byzantine frogs but, while it includes a number of salamanders and snakes, there were no frogs to be found. There is no shortage of late medieval frogs, however, if one consults the 1491 Hortus sanitatis. In one case, a man removes a bufonite (a variant of a bezoar stone) from the head of a toad, a practice we cannot condone. (Did you know there is no taxonomic distinction between frogs and toads?)

Bufonite, from the "Hortus sanitatis"

Bufonite, from the “Hortus sanitatis”

Rana marina, from "Hortus sanitatis." The same woodblock is used in both the section on animals and the section on fish.

Rana marina, from “Hortus sanitatis.” The same woodblock is used in both the section on animals and the section on fish.

Mark Catesby observed several frogs in The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. Some of them may be ancestors of the stream- and pond-dwellers of today’s Southeastern United States. Given the recent conclusion of Passover, we hope this blog post does not feel like a plague of frogs, but rather a celebration of their welcome presence as a sign of spring.

Catesby's Bull Frog

Catesby’s Bull Frog

Catesby's Water Frog

Catesby’s Water Frog