Have you ever looked closely at a frog? Did you notice how smooth and shiny their skin was? And how big their eyes were? And how they sat way up on top of their head? It may look funny to us, but there is a good reason for it.
Frogs can sit completely under water with nothing but their eyes exposed, wait for their lunch to come buzzing by and . . . thwaaap! Have you ever watched a frog snag a fly with his long, sticky tongue? If you have, then you are quite lucky, because it happens so fast that if you blink at the wrong time you will miss it. What about their very long, strong, legs? Have you ever watched a frog take a really big hop?
Frogs like to sit along the shore and soak up the sun, but when they‘re disturbed they take one great leap . . . sssplunk! and they‘re under the water where they can hide. This is how they use their legs to escape from their enemies. It takes a pretty sneaky critter to catch a frog. Try it sometime.
One thing I‘ll bet you never noticed on a frog, though, is his tail. That‘s because he doesn‘t have one. At one time he did, but he lost it. I‘ll tell you how he lost his tail in this story.
* * *
A long, long, time ago, the earth was completely covered by ice. It was terribly cold, and the land beneath it was frozen solid. There were no signs of life upon the white, empty landscape.
One day the sun became very hot and began thawing the frozen land. The melting ice turned into water. The water turned into rivers that flowed into the valleys and rested there. The many beautiful lakes and ponds that now dot the landscape were created at that time.
It was in one such pond that a small, strange looking creature called a tadpole was born. The little tadpole was about an inch long, had a large silvery head and a long flat tail. The beginnings of two stubby legs were tucked against his belly and he lived completely under water like the finned ones known as fish.
Within the pond not only lived the fish, there were also turtles, snakes, ducks, geese, and many others. Birds built their nests in the trees surrounding the pond and animals drank from it.
Life in the pond was good for the little tadpole. During the day he played with his brother and sister tadpoles in the sun-warmed shallow water. At night he snuggled in the soft mud and dozed.
The little tadpole had only been in the pond for a short while when he learned a very important lesson, one he would never forget. He learned to stay close to shore and to be wary of the finned ones, especially the very large finned one called Big Bass.
Early one morning he had watched his sister dissappear into Big Bass‘s mouth. It had all happened so fast, but he saw it with his very own eyes. One minute she was there, the next she was gone. That event was very frightening to the little tadpole. From that day on he kept a wary eye out for the sneaky Big Bass. He vowed to never venture into the deeper water like his sister had. Instead, he hid in the shallows under a big tree limb that had fallen into the water.
As time went by, a change took place in the tadpole’s body. His legs grew longer and were by now quite large, actually they had become the largest part of his body. His tail had changed also. No longer broad and flat, it shrunk a little and looked more like the tail on his cousin the salamander. He really didn‘t need it any more since his legs were so large, but it was a pretty decoration as it floated behind him while swimming.
Weeks later, after he was fully grown, tadpole felt a strong urge to get out of the water. He crawled onto the soft mud at the edge of the pond and hopped for the first time on his big legs. What a thrill!
For the first time he took a long, deep, breath of fresh air. He loved the smell of the dry land and decided from that time on to spend his days sitting along the weedy shore beside the old limb.
He sat there, day after day, warming himself in the sun. When he became hungry, he caught the many flies and insects dumb enough to get in range of his mighty tongue.
His skin was at first bright green, but later it became darker, almost the color of the wet mud he liked to sit in. He blended in with the shoreline so well you could hardly see him. He also had a new name. He was now a bullfrog and his name was Gus.
Gus spent most of his time alone because none of his tadpole playmates had come out of the water like he had. They had all disappeared. He remembered Big Bass and had an idea the finned one had something to do with their disappearance.
Every once in a while Gus would notice his large shadow moving under the water just in front of him. He was very glad that he could now sit in the mud along the shore where Big Bass couldn‘t get him. But every time he took a leap into the pond he said a small prayer, and hoped the monsters mouth wasn‘t opened just below the waterline waiting for him to land.
After dark the many night creatures would begin chattering to one another across the pond. The crickets would fill the air with “CChHIIRRUUUUP! CCHHIIRRUUUUP!” In the trees Brother Owl would sing a loud “Hoooo Hoooo,“ and soon the answer would come to him from another area of the forest.
Gus felt very lonely as he sat upon the dead limb and listened to the symphony surrounding him. The thought that others had friends and he didn’t made him feel lonelier still. At the height of his despair he would hop out to the very end of the limb, puff up his large neck and sing to the night time sky in a loud, deep, voice. “RRRIIIVVVIIITTT! RRRIIIVVVIIITTT! CCCRRRRWHHHAAAACCCKKK! CCCRRRWHHHAAACCCKKK!“
He would sing, “I am a mighty bullfrog and I pray to the One above. Send me a friend and companion, I need somebody to love. Please send me a friend and companion, I need somebody to love!“
Over and over again, he would sing the same song. He would sing himself asleep each night, awaken before the dawn and sing some more.
One night after Gus stopped singing in order to refill his lungs he heard a strange new melody coming from across the pond. It filled the nighttime sky with its loveliness. The song was not as loud as his, nor as deep, but he understood it!
The new song was very intriguing to Gus and he listened intently to the soft flow of it. The song spoke to him deep within his heart. It spoke to him of friendship, and togetherness, and it spoke to him of love. The voice rang out across the pond and carressed Gus’s ears, “rrriiivvvvittt……….
riiivvvuuuuttttt ………. ccccrrrrrooooaaaaakkk!”
It said, “The mighty one who rules the sky has heard your lonely plea. My love awaits to sooth your heart, but you must come to me. You first must come to me.“
Gus tensed up his legs and prepared to leap into the darkened water, but then he remembered. Big Bass was somewhere out there waiting for him. He knew he would never make it across. No matter how fast he swam, Big Bass could easily soar up from the depths and catch him. One swallow and he’d be a gonner.
Gus was afraid to jump as the voice from across the pond continued. “The mighty one who rules the sky has heard your lonely plea. My love awaits to sooth your heart, but you must come to me. You first must come to me.“
Over and over again the melody filled the air. All the other night creatures had become quiet as they listened and waited to see what Gus would do. He did nothing. He was afraid . . . and very sad.
The next morning Gus hopped nervously back and forth around his tree limb. He could no longer sit quietly and blend in with the weeds, he was too excited. He began talking to himself, “Man oh man, what am I going to do? What am I going to do?”
“You have to figure a way to get to the other side,” he said to himself.
“Relax and think.“
“Think? How can I think?”
“Settle down, think!“
Gus slowly settled himself down, took a deep breath and began figuring out a way to get across the pond. As he looked out across the water he realized the distance was not so great. The swim would be an easy one if he could somehow stay clear of Big Bass.
As he pondered his situation he began to notice there were many lily pads floating on top of the water. I wonder if I can sit on a lily pad and float across? he thought.
“No, they‘re stuck in place,” he mumbled to himself. “They won‘t move.“
Hmmmm, what if I were to use my powerful legs to jump from one to the other, I bet I could jump all the way across the pond and never go into the water!
Gus became very excited. “Yes! That‘s it! I‘ll jump across the pond on the lily pads and never feel the water. Big Bass cannot get me then!”
Gus was not in the mood to wait around. He knew where the voice had come from and he knew what it would take to get there. “I‘ll just hop down the shore a bit to where the lily pads are thick and I‘ll take off,“ he said to himself. “When I get to the other side, I‘ll search for the one who sings so beautifully.”
Without further ado Gus left his beloved dead limb that had sheltered and protected him for so long and headed into the unknown. He was excited, but no longer afraid. When a frog’s in love there is no fear.
Gus reached the marshy spot he’d chosen. He tightened his mighty legs and leaped into the air . . . FFFLLLLUUUUP! He landed perfectly in the center of the nearest lily pad.
It was his first time on a lily pad and it took some getting used to. Stay in the center, it won‘t rock so much . . . Make sure when you jump you‘re over the center. He bobbed there a while on the shimmering green pad getting used to the newness of it.
“Time to go!“ he said. Another great leap and off he went, flying high towards the next pad a little further out into the pond. “Weeeeee!“ he shouted as he landed smack dab in the center of it. “Nothing to it!“
One after the other, he lept across the pads until he found himself just a few more jumps from the other side. He looked back, saw how far he had come and became very proud of himself. He was confident that he had out smarted Big Bass. His journey was almost over.
Big Bass had been watching Gus from a distance for a long time. He loved the taste of tadpoles and had managed to eat everyone in the pond except Gus. He noticed the change that had taken place in Gus’s body, but it only made him more desirable to eat.
“If the little ones were so delicious, I can only imagine how good the big croaker will taste,“ he‘d say to his finned friends. “But he‘s mine you guys, and don‘t forget it,“ he warned. Nobody in the finned family fooled with Big Bass, he was the biggest fish in the pond.
That morning Big Bass had made his rounds, caught a few minnows for breakfast and decided to cruise by Gus and see if he could catch him in the water. As he drew close to the shore and looked up to the area where Gus hung out he let out a huge bubble and began talking to himself. “He=s gone! Where‘d he go? He‘s always sitting in the same spot. Where‘s the croaker?“
He drew as close to the shore as he could get and slowly moved his large body along it, looking for any sign of Gus, but he was nowhere to be found.
Oh no, I hope he didn‘t do something stupid and give himself to Horny Owl last night, he thought. Is my favorite croaker meal dead?
Just then a small, skinny finned one named Little Sucker came up to Big Bass. He was called Little Sucker because he was always causing trouble. He moved cautiously up to one large eye and whispered in Big Bass‘s ear. “Go quickly to the lilly pads and there you will see, the mighty bullfrog hopping, across the pond in glee.“
Without a word Big Bass sped off to the pad forest and began searching amongst the long stems that anchored the pads to the bottom. He saw one wiggling in the water. . . and as he looked up from under the large pad he saw the shadow of Gus as he sat on top of it. Slowly, he floated up and stopped, quietly waiting just beneath the vibrating pad.
Gus sat at the very center of the pad and estimated the distance to the next and last lily pad. One more long jump, a short hop, and he would be safely on shore. A short distance from there sat his lady love.“It‘s a long jump, a very long jump,“ he said as he took in the situation. “I may hit the water first.”
He nervously looked around for signs of Big Bass, but his long shadow was nowhere to be seen. “I have no choice, I must jump, a mighty leap it will surely be, but one I must take.“
Gus squatted down as far as he could, tensed his large leg muscles under him, sited for the next pad and took off. He soared through the air heading straight for the pad. “I‘m going to make it! I‘m going to make it!“ he hollered, and it looked as if he would . . . if it had not been for the sudden gust of wind that hit him in the face. The wind was just sharp enough to slow him down and . . . Kerrspllashh!
He landed in the water right in front of the pad. Swim! Swim for it! Hurry! he thought as he began swimming desperately for the pad. He swam as if his life depended on it, because it did!
All that had taken place was no surprise to Big Bass, he knew the croaker would never be able to leap far enough to reach the pad without a little swim. And by taking that little swim, the croaker was about to become the best meal Big Bass had eaten in a long time.
When Gus hit the water, Big Bass saw it all from beneath the lily pad and made his move. His mouth open wide, he churned the water and sped for the doomed croaker. He caught up to Gus just as he was crawling onto the lily pad. Aiming for one long delicious looking leg he closed his eyes, clamped his mouth down and felt the joy of the foreign object between his lips. One easy jerk and Croaker would be pulled off the pad where he could be eaten.
Big Bass was so excited about eating Gus that he didn‘t even realize he had the long salamander like tail in his mouth. In his haste he had missed the leg, a very lucky break for Gus because as Big Bass tugged on the tail, it came off. All he got was a mouth full of tail. He immediately swallowed it and went back for more. Too late! Gus had managed to crawl to the center of the large lily pad where he sat very still, frightened out of his wits.
Big Bass was very angry that he had let the croaker get away. He swam around and around the lily churning up the water before taking off down the pond as fast as he could swim. He settled on the bottom of the deepest part and sulked. “Someday, I‘ll catch that croaker, he vowed. “If only he hadn‘t moved, I‘d have gotten his leg instead of that worthless tail of his.“ He was one big sad Big Bass for many days after.
Meanwhile on the lilly pad, Gus was building up his courage to take the final leap. It was a small jump and no big deal, but he was still very nervous. He landed far up the beach and immediately hopped into the weeds to hide.
After a while he heard a faint croaking coaxing him from the weeds a few yards to his right. He hopped into the clearing and there she was! Her bright green skin shimmered in the afternoon sun. Her eyes were large and clear. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, or even thought about seeing. He forgot all about the Big Bass incident as he sat and stared at her.
“Well,“ she said. “Aren‘t you going to say anything? Are you just going to sit and stare at me all day.“
“Ahhh Geee, well, ahhh. . . hello, ahhh, I’m Gus.“ he mumbled.
“Is this the same mighty bullfrog who has been calling out each night for the One to send him a mate?“
“Ahhh, yeah . . .that‘s me.“ Darnit! What‘s the matter with me? He was really nervous, as nervous as when he‘d almost gotten eaten by Big Bass.
“I watched as you outsmarted the big fish and I must say you are a very, very, brave bullfrog.“ she said as she hopped even closer. “My names Greta.”
Suddenly his nervousness was gone, and he burst out laughing as he looked behind him. “He got my tail, but he didn‘t get me. I’m a poor sight without my tail, that’s for sure.”
“Well, Gus, I think you look mighty handsome without it.” She then hopped over and rubbed her side against his.
That evening the two of them sat together on a big flat stone and sang a duet into the nighttime sky. All the creatures stopped their chattering and listened as the lovely melody floated across the pond. “RRRiVVVIIIIITTTT! RRRIVVVIIIIITTT! CCRRRROOOAAAKKK!” burst forth deep and clear into the stillness, followed by the much softer and refined voice of Greta. “Rivvitt, rivviitt, ccrrooaakkk, ccrrooaaak!”
This is what they sang:
“The One above has heard our plea; my love now sits along side of me.
Oh, mighty Spirit Great, thank you for this perfect mate.”
The hushed silence suddenly erupted in song as the Crickets, and the Owls, and the Raccoons, and a hundred other creatures of the night lent their voices to the melody.
The stars twinkled and the Moon became a little brighter that night as Gus slept peacefully in the arms of his love.
A few weeks later Gus said to Greta, “This morning as I awakened I thought of a plan to outwit Big Bass once and for all.”
“That‘s wonderful,” Greta said. “I fear for our children’s lives otherwise.”
“At the far end of the pond there’s a dam that Beaver, who lives there in a house of sticks, has built. If we move to the pond behind the dam we will be safe. Big Bass can’t swim over the dam.”
Without hesitation Greta said, “Let‘s go.”
It was a bit of a hop, and it took an hour or two for them to complete the journey, but soon they were safely behind the dam checking out the small pond. “This place is beautiful,” Greta said. “The waters shallow and warm, plus there are plenty of weeds to hide in. This new home is perfect!”
“Yes, yes it is,” said Gus feeling mighty proud of himself. “This place is perfect, and this big old stumps just large enough for the two of us to sit on when we sing to the night.”
“Ohhh, Gus . . .” Greta sighed, as she snuggled close to his side.
* * *
Six weeks later, seven tiny frogs crawled out of the shallow water and began hopping along the shore of the beaver pond, free and unafraid. Gus and Greta, their parents, watched proudly as they played in the mud, and laughed as they practiced snapping their long sticky tongues at any insect in range.
“Do you notice?” Greta asked Gus. “They have no tails.”
Ha! Ha! “so they don‘t,” he said laughing. “So they don’t.”
Because Gus had been the first Bullfrog, from that time on, even until today, every tadpole leaves his tail behind when he crawls out of the water ready to start his new life as a frog.
And that‘s the end of the story . . . and the reason why frogs have no tails.