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Jul 17, 2012

The Latest from Frog Central

Seismic Amphibians

At the Earthquake Observatory of the University of Cologne (in Bensberg) we have frogs and toads. And no, that's not a euphemism for our current crop of students. I see them whenever I go downstairs to my basement office as this window - a rain gutter window - is usually home to several at any one time, depending on the season and the weather. Since we are in the midst of a very rainy summer here in Bensberg, there is currently a healthy population. There are around ten of them in there today.

We at first thought they were falling through the grating above the window, and would carry them back down to the large pond on the Bensberg grounds, imagining ourselves with do-gooders' halos. I imagine the frogs were slapping themselves on their froggy foreheads at this. They don't 'fall in', they 'fall up'. They travel upwards and backwards through the drainage pipe - which comes out near the pond - to enter the drainage window. Why they do this is a mystery (any frog experts out there?), but they seem to enjoy being in there. They also seem to enjoy observing us and regularly clatter up to the tiny ledge on the window to see what those weird two-legged simians inside the window are doing.

I'm looking at you.

Students and staff occasionally add a bit of furniture to spruce the place up - a branch for climbing up to the small window ledge where these frogs are doing their ballet - an improvised garden consisting of a container with some moss and other plant material (since dried up, but the frogs don't seem to mind) - an ash tray with a tiny bit of water, a mini-pond - and various pieces of bark and rock for them to crawl over and under and otherwise declare as their piece of sacred ground.

They range in size from the tiniest frog (less than a centimeter), to good-sized toad - like the one in the picture; he's on the bottom. Newts also show up less often, those gadflies of the amphibian world, but they're harder to spot. National Geographic's Lucy Cooke does in-depth views on frogs and toads and other 'creepy' animals, so check it out if you want some more frogginess.

Frog ballet in Bensberg


Now, if we can only train them to predict earthquakes, I think our fortune would be made.