My pursuit of frog toes, originating in Illinois, has now continued across several Midwestern states. A tip from the Wisconsin DNR sent me to a muddy farmer’s field near a spring, where I easily captured two dozen pickerel frogs in broad daylight while curious cows looked over my shoulder. When collecting on private land I always feel the need to work as fast as possible, both to impress the landowners with my herpetological prowess and to promptly give them back their privacy. Luckily, these cheese-head frogs complied. In contrast, I only found a handful of plains leopard frogs in central Iowa, not enough to justify taking their toes, but I was on state land in the middle of nowhere and there was no one I needed to impress. In Michigan my field site was a military base. I might have been denied entry at the security gate but for the fact that I was accompanied by the president of the Michigan Society of Herpetologists, who had been there before and could convince the top brass to let me in. If I had accidentally wandered into the wrong section of the base, I could have been shot by practicing soldiers, so I made sure to read the map extra carefully. It was all worth it, as a riot of the world’s best-protected pickerel frogs were waiting in a seepage area to donate their toes to science.
All of these places were full of wildlife other than the frogs I was chasing, of course. Gray tree frogs and spring peepers called at night. These hylid frogs are much louder than the ranid frogs I sought, and it was often a challenge to listen for the call of leopard frogs over the deafening din of their smaller cousins. Waterfowl were everywhere; I even stumbled upon a Canada goose nest where three eggs were hatching, and I managed to observe the shells slowly crack and peep without being attacked by the irate parents. I won’t really miss the wood ticks, which I inadvertently collected even more prolifically than I did frogs.
The dried toes are now safely preserved in plastic tubes inside boxes, awaiting DNA extraction. Who knows what lessons might be gleaned from there genes? The remarkable thing is, I feel like I’ve learned so much already just by collecting them.