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Desert frogs come alive in Red Centre's outback following a week of heavy rains

Katrina Beavan, Thursday November 23, 2017 - 10:46 EDT
ABC image
The common spadefoot rears its head after good rain in central Australia. - ABC

Following a week of wet weather, native desert frogs are out in full vocal force in parts of central Australia.

Last week , well above the town's entire November average rainfall of 28.1mm.

According to local Alice Springs ecologist Alistair Stewart the frogs, many of which are of the burrowing variety, will stay underground for months on end, or even years, and only surface after it rains.

"It's not until you have a decent rain period like this that you'll start coming across them again," he said.

"They have amazing adaptations to be able to stick it out without any sort of rain or water coming down the rivers for months and years at a time."

Mr Stewart told the Northern Territory Country Hour that as soon as the frogs had started calling he was in the storm water drain behind his house looking for them and recording calls.

"The little desert tree frogs started calling in the couple of days leading up to the storms, so I think they knew what was on the way.

"But it wasn't until the night after the first good rains that the burrowing frogs had come out of the soil and realised it was time to breed."

In a singular drain, Mr Stewart estimated that there was at least four or five different species of frogs.

That included a large population of the desert tree frog, the Main's frog, , and the common spadefoot, just to name a few.

What's in a croak?

Mr Stewart said people probably did not realise what a novelty it was to hear frogs in arid areas like Alice Springs.

"They realise there's a huge frog chorus, then realise that they hadn't heard them for a year or two since the last lot of storms," he said.

While some people may see the frogs as somewhat of a nuisance that keeps them awake, for Mr Stewart it was a little different.

"I guess I can hear them as different voices in a crowd so I can appreciate them a bit more than that," he said.

"They're not some pesky neighbours. I actually know these guys and what they're saying to each other.

"It's only the male frogs that are calling and they're trying to attract mates, so it's a big group of rowdy male frogs that you're hearing."

'Frogging' popularity grows

While the practice of 'frogging' — looking for and documenting native frogs — is enjoyed by many wildlife enthusiasts, Mr Stewart said he thought of it as a bit more niche than twitching.

"It's probably a bit more difficult in that it's usually a night-time pursuit, it's going to be wet and probably muddy," he said.

"It's probably a bit harder too just trying to find some of these frogs. While they're making a lot of noise they're only a couple of centimetres long."

For this reason, Mr Stewart said there was a lot to be learnt about frogs in the desert.

"There's also probably other species here that we don't know of yet, other species that haven't been recognised by science," he said.

"Just because it's really hard to get information on a species that only pops up a couple of days a year."


© ABC 2017

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