Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tree Frog in the Bathroom!

Abe V Rotor

The Common Tree Frog (Polypedates leucomystar) has an arboreal habit, but now and then it comes down to feed on insects, and even visit nearby homes. This is how I encountered this living specimen one hot summer afternoon in a most unlikely place - the bathroom of a dormitory in a retreat house in Lipa City. As I was about to cool off, I found company with this unexpected creature perched on the shower head apparently enjoying itself.
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Unabated loss of natural habitat has driven wildlife species to seek shelter in human settlements. Like the tree frog, they slowly adapt to man-made conditions, invading privacy and causing discomfort, and to the extent of spreading diseases.
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The last time I remember seeing a tree frog was when I was a farmhand. In Ilocos we called it tukak uleg or snake frog, because it is a favorite prey of snakes, and its distress cry sends instinctive warning to anyone who is in the vicinity. Sometimes it is called banana frog because it resides at the axils of leaf stalks where water from rain and dewdrops accumulates and make a series of miniature ponds. It is not unusual to find a frothy egg mass hanging up in a banana tree. Here the eggs hatch into tadpoles, and being larvivorous, feed on mosquito wrigglers and plankton organisms until the become frogs. Here they subsist on insect pest and worm. It is a classical example of biological control which benefits farmers and residents in the area.

Chemical pesticides were unknown to us and the farmers then. Many organisms disappeared since modern agriculture was introduced in the sixties, among them scores of species, including this curious looking tree frog. Once I compared this cadaverous and clumsy creature to Ichabod Crane as described by its creator, the father of short story in America - Washington Irving!

I had in mind the features of the tree frog when I described the odd looking fiction character.

"If your vocabulary is limited, " my dad once said, "use analogy." I did. Mrs Leonor Itchon, my literature teacher in high school nodded wryly after my recitation amidst subdued giggling among my classmates. Well, I may not have received a good grade, but the tree frog helped me become a biologist.

The bathroom encounter with my long lost acquaintance - the tree frog - that hot afternoon won't make a movie, but at least my son, Marlo and I, were able to document a biological renaissance. I had just made a review of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. The theme of the novel made me realize man's vulnerability to destruction amidst progress and pursuit of his dreams. At the end of the novel warns us, "the bell tolls for no one; it tolls for thee."

Maybe not, as long as creatures we thought to have been lost forever are coming back alive. Hail to the tree frog.

By Dr Abe V Rotor and Matthew Marlo R Rotor, Lipa Batangas.

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