Broome residents rescue hordes of long-footed frogs from swimming pools

When Stacey Larke woke to find more than 300 tiny brown frogs in her swimming pool, she was baffled.

A self-proclaimed frog lover, Ms Larke was worried she could die, so she jumped into action and found herself wading around in her pajamas scooping up tiny frogs at 5:30am.

“I’ve just never seen anything like it before,” she said.

“I started scooping them out with my hands and… putting them on the edge of the pool.

“Then I realized that it was going to be a mammoth task so I got the scooper duper and started scooping them out.

The long-footed frog spends a lot of its life underground and emerges during big rain to breed.(Supplied: Deb Hannagan)

“I was pretty soaked anyway because it was raining so then I just decided to get into the pool in my PJs.

“I bounced around on my tippy toes in the middle of the pool, scooping the ones out from the centre.”

What began as two frogs

Ms Larke lives in the tourist town of Broome in Western Australia’s Kimberley, where residents have been inundated with long-footed frogs swimming in their pools.

Eddie Tran, who lives in Broome North, says most people with pools in the area were experiencing the same thing.

The population in Mr Tran’s pool started at two but has grown over the week.

“The following day it was about 10 and then the day after that it was 50 and then the last couple of days there has probably been well over 100 in our swimming pool,” he said.

Mr Tran has been relocating the frogs to a vacant block next door and the pond in his children’s fairy garden, but they keep jumping back in.

Frogs can drown

Both Mr Tran and Ms Larke say a number of frogs have died in their pools, especially those that dived to the bottom.

Jodi Rowley, curator of amphibian and reptile biology at the Australian Museum and University of New South Wales, says it seems counterintuitive, but frogs can drown.

She says while they are related to tree frogs, long-footed frogs are terrible climbers, as they have evolved to use their legs to burrow to survive in dry conditions.

They struggle to climb out of swimming pools and can drown.

Additionally, pool chemicals are harmful to frogs, which partially breathe and drink through their skin.

“If they land in a salt-water or chlorinated pool, then those chemicals are likely to really affect them,” Dr Rowley says.

“So getting them out as quickly as possible is really important.

Leaving a floating device in the pool can help the frogs get out. (ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne)

“There are these … frog ladders that you can put in pools, or [you can use] something that floats on the surface and the frogs are able to climb up on.

“That would really help the frogs out.

“I love frogs very much, but they probably aren’t the smartest animals on the block, so unfortunately they probably won’t learn from their mistakes.”

Three brown frogs swimming in a poolLong-footed frogs struggled to get out of swimming pools because they use their legs to burrow, not climb.(Supplied: Deb Hannagan)

A life spent underground

Dr Rowley says the reason for the droves of long-footed frogs is heavy rain earlier in the year.

She says the frogs breed well during a good wet season and once they’re large enough they start looking for water, although the long-footed frog spends a lot of its life underground.

“They often have tiny little shovels on the back of their feet and they’ll get into softer soil before it starts drying up too much – and they’ll burrow down,” she says.

“Then they’ll start shedding layers of their own skin and secreting things so they actually have a cocoon.”

A lady holding frogs in her hand Jodi Rowley says the long-footed frogs had a good breeding season this year. (Supplied: Tim Cutajar)

Long-footed frogs will stay underground for months, sometimes years, waiting patiently for heavy rain, which signals they’re able to survive and breed on the surface once again.

“They hold enough water in their bladder that can keep them going and they make themselves really waterproof,” Dr Rowley says.

“They don’t eat because they can’t open their mouth – and they just … pause everything.”

Dr Rowley is also the lead scientist on the National Frog ID Citizen Science Project, which is why she knew they’d had a successful breeding season.

“Thankfully, people were out there with the frog ID app recording the calls of many frogs, including the long-footed burrowing frog and they were going like crazy trying to breed,” she says.

A good season for frogs

Small brown frogs in a pool net. Frogs partially breathe and drink through their skin and are affected by pool chemicals. (Supplied: Eddie Tran)

While it might be a bit of a nuisance scooping frogs out of the pool, Dr Rowley says frog populations are in decline and their abundance is something to celebrate, as it is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

“In places where they disappear, there are awful consequences,” she says.

“The streams clog up with algae because the tadpoles aren’t around anymore.

“All the other animals start to disappear and decline as well because they rely on these huge booms of tasty frogs to survive.

“It’s been a good season for frogs, which they definitely needed.”

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Mike Hunter

Mike is the owner of the local pool shop. He's been in the business for over 20 years and knows everything there is to know about pools. He's always happy to help his customers with whatever they need, whether it's advice on pool maintenance or choosing the right chemicals. He's also a bit of a pool expert, and is always happy to share his knowledge with anyone who's interested.

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