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Wednesday, 21 September 2011 14:51

Shooting frogs through the car window

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This is about frogs. Of late, I’ve been thinking about them … especially the frog that snores. As I recently discovered, there is a fairly common species here in the Smokies region that emits snore-like vocalizations. More about that in a moment.

My grandmother was a short gap-toothed woman with a loud laugh who most always got her way. She was a very good with a .22 rifle. Her hunting was restricted to three animals: in the fall she shot squirrels; during the summer she shot frogs; and year-round she shot rats. The squirrels and frogs were shot through the head so as not to damage the flesh. She skinned them herself. The edible portions of the squirrels were pan fried and served with thickening gravy.

I was about eight when I first went frog-hunting with grandmother near my father’s homeplace at Abingdon in the mountains of southwestern Virginia. She didn’t like to walk … so she hunted squirrels from a stump only a few paces from her car and shot frogs through the driver’s window.

It wasn’t hard to find a frog pond. You could hear them booming from the main road. Once situated just so, she’d cut off the motor and lights and wait for the frogs to reappear. As soon as they were booming again, she’d flip on the headlights and flood the pond with light so that the dark water sparkled with transfixed frog eyes. She’d pick them off one by one until there were no more eyes showing. My job was to retrieve the frogs in a sack, after which we’d move on to the next pond until grandmother felt we had enough or got tired. Once home, she’d cut off the hind legs and deftly peel the skin off the soft flesh using a paring knife and pliers. These were soaked in salt water, dried, battered, and deep fried until crispy brown.If you’ve never eaten frog legs, there’s no way you can understand how good they taste when prepared fresh out of a swamp, creek or pond. Better than catfish. Better than deep-fried chicken. Better than most anything.

As a teenager, I waded with an uncle or by myself in the swamps of piedmont Virginia gigging frogs. Then later, I gigged them from boats wherever we happened to be living in the South. My wife, seven months pregnant with our first child, paddled the boat one time on a lake near Chapel Hill while I speared frogs from the bow. That was her first time hunting frogs and she wasn’t too sure about the undertaking until she tasted the results later that night.

My last frogging expedition was on a farm pond in Mississippi in the summer of 1972. Since then, I’ve simply taken an interest in their range and peculiarities. There are but four species that are commonly encountered here in Western North Carolina — bull frogs, northern green frogs, pickerel frogs, and wood frogs — so identification isn’t a problem. Wood frogs, which are about 2- to 3-inches long and sport distinctive dark patches around their eyes, usually inhabit moist woodlands. The call is a duck-like squawk or grunt. Bull frogs can be up to 8-inches long. They are dark olive and exhibit a fold of skin on each side of their heads extending in an arc from behind the eye down to their front armpit. Breeding males have yellow lips. Their vibrant “jug-o-rum” mating signals are what we think of when we think of frogs calling. Northern green frogs resemble bull frogs but are smaller. Their backs are mottled with brownish-green patterns. The vocalization has been likened to a “banjo-like ‘clung.’” They are perhaps the most common frog species in the region. Pickerel frogs are about the same size as northern green frogs. They display rows of squarish brown spots down their backs and favor areas near creeks or wetlands.

For several years I had been hearing a snoring noise outside our bedroom window after midnight. Coons don’t snore. Possums don’t snore. Fox don’t snore. Coyotes don’t snore. Bobcats don’t snore. Horses don’t snore. Chickens don’t snore. To my knowledge, none of the animals that inhabited our property snore. Then, by chance, I read the pickeral frog entry in Reptiles and Amphibians of the Smokies (2001): “The voice is a low-pitched snore lasting 1-2 seconds.”

I have learned that pickeral frogs snore for two reasons: to attract a mate; and to warn intruders (other male pickeral frogs) away. These attraction and warning snores can be heard at:

http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/topics/frogCalls.html.                

So now, when I lie awake at night listening to snoring outside my window, I know exactly what it is and think about my grandmother shooting frogs through her car window 60 years ago.      

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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