Romney’s Laughing Frogs

Romney Marsh is famed for its unique landscapes, its history, and its wildlife. And one story that encapsulates all these areas of interest is the story of the laughing frogs of Romney Marsh.

 

Great Britain has two frogs of its own – the common frog (Rana temporaria) and the Northern clade pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae). While the common frog is a familiar sight to most people, the pool frog became extinct in the mid-1990s, but has been specially reintroduced back into the wild, although it still remains one of our most endangered amphibians.

 

However, in 1935 a playwright by the name of Edward Percy Smith went on a trip to Hungary and was apparently so enamoured with the frogs there that he brought 12 of them back and, in an eye-watering display of hubris and flagrant disregard for the delicate nature of local biodiversity, released them into the pond in his garden at Stone-in-Oxney, just outside Romney Marsh.

 

These were marsh frogs, or laughing frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus), native to Europe and parts of West Asia. Adults are large, and come in a variety of green and brown colours; their name comes from the distinctive “laughing” call they make, a hoarse gargling gibber, which is strange enough to send a chill down the spine of any traveller walking through the marsh late at night.

 

Smith’s 12 frogs quickly settled into their new life, and soon felt the confines of Smith’s garden pond too small for their growing family. The frogs spread and multiplied, and in a few years they had escaped beyond Smith’s garden into the Marsh, and their eerie, gurgling laughter could be heard all around – to the extent that official complaints were made to the Ministry of Health about the noise.

 

Today the marsh frogs are still there. In the hot summer months they can be found sunning themselves on the banks of ditches, coyly slipping back into the water if startled.

 

by Alice Smales

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