Sunday, September 29, 2013

Avoiding the bathroom

Before I begin, I’d like to apologise if this blog post is a little... er... disjointed.
Or a touch confused.
Or just plain...  jittery.

You see I’m currently sitting hunched in front of my computer with my legs tightly crossed, jiggling. While half my brain ponders this blog post, the other half is quietly chanting, Sheldon-like,
‘I am the Master of my bladder...’
It’s not true of course. In any showdown, my gross bodily functions inevitably triumph.
So why don’t I just go and, er... relieve myself?

Because when I visit my toilet, I AM NOT ALONE.

No, the marbled tree snake has not moved back into my shower cubicle (actually I don’t even have a shower cubicle). The problem is smaller. But more numerous...

You see, dwelling within my toilet is a community of bubbling kassinas.
Now I know this probably won’t mean much to you.
It even sounds quite pleasant, doesn’t it? Drifts of tiny aquatic flowers maybe, garlanded with little silver bubbles?
Well you can forget that. Bubbling kassinas are frogs.
Little frogs; cute frogs; but FROGS!

Okay, I realise that when you live in the tropics, toilet-dwelling amphibians are humdrum and routine. But those are tree frogs. Those are frogs that hop about and clamber up the porcelain because it’s a cool place to chill. They aren’t aquatic frogs. They don’t come sculling in, underwater, from the dreadful lower reaches of the septic tank. They don’t circumnavigate the toilet bowl, in unhurried breaststroke – while you’re using it – and then dive deftly back down the outlet pipe.
Call me old fashioned, but I find that disconcerting.

Bubbling kassinas (Kassina senegalensis) are also known as running frogs (because they’re a bit anatomically-challenged). The critters trot about over much of sub-Saharan Africa but it’s still unclear whether they all belong to one big, happy family species.
Photo posted on Flickr by Vivi Bolin.

Look I’m not denying that bubbling kassinas are agreeable little frogs. Just 4 cm (1.6") long, they could have crept straight out of a Peanuts cartoon: their smiling, snub-nosed faces make up almost half their total being. They swim about wearing glossy wetsuits of yellow, cream or silver grey, flamboyantly adorned with black go-faster stripes. But most impressive of all are their massive eyes: burnished-gold with an inky black cat’s pupil.

Frog’s eyes, of course, don’t just look weird. Fitted out with rods and cones, they let the frog see in colour, but - unlike in a mammal's eye - the lens doesn’t flex to focus on objects at differing distances. Instead it trundles back and forth within the eyeball to adjust the focal length. Oh, and frogs’ eyes also aid in digestion. When a frog is scoffing down a bulky prey item, it retracts its eyeballs into its mouth cavity, giving the hapless victim an extra shove down the gullet.
Now that’s what I call gob smacking.

The skin cells of frogs are peppered with colourful chromatophores that can be corralled or dispersed within the cell to alter the frogs’ colour. One type, iridiophores, are silvery, reflecting light back through the other pigments to give the frog a vibrant ‘inner glow’. These kassinas are dressed for (left) the dark, chilly depths of the septic tank and (right) the warm, sunlit waters of the toilet bowl.

Sometimes I’m lulled into believing the toilet is ‘unoccupied’ only to find that the little beasts have crept up under the porcelain rim. When I press 'flush', they come whooshing down in a swirl of white-water, limbs akimbo like a granny in a waterslide. When I can, I fish the creatures out (NOT pleasant) and release them carefully into one of the water dishes I maintain (for no apparent reason) in the garden. But after repeated ‘rescue missions’, I began to wonder.
Was I translocating the same frog over and over?
Unwisely, I started photographing their back patterns...

Argh! There are hundreds of the creatures!

Kassina number 15. According to my frog book, bubbling kassinas hang out in temporary and permanent water bodies, including vleis, marshes, pans, ponds and dams. Please note the conspicuous absence of indoor plumbing. Is this an oversight or are my frogs eccentric?

The rains haven’t yet arrived this season, so the squatters in my bathroom are blessedly mute. Like most frogs, macho bubbling kassinas have two different croaks.
The first is a love song (a short, rising boip which you can listen to here) whose lyrics go: “I am WONDERFUL and I’m waiting here just for you” (okay, I can’t guarantee this is absolutely verbatim).
The other ditty, which has more of a punk rock feel, is sung to fellow choristers: “Piss off you mongrel, this is MY bloody podium!”

The problem with all this fine operatic communication is that the intended recipient may not be able to hear you above the racket. I mean when the rains come, there can be ten different species all bellowing out their serenades down by the water. But bubbling kassinas are wily. Firstly, they adhere to the early birds adage and begin calling in the late afternoon when everyone else is still abed. Secondly, they avoid the Idol's try-out scrum down at the poolside, secreting themselves in the shrubbery well back from the water. It’s out here, where it’s less noisy, that they rendezvous with potential lovers, and – if their song is sexy enough – then accompany their ladylove down to the water.

However, there’s a flaw in this plan. When one lusty kassina boips, his neighbours can’t resist doing it too, and while this creates a lovely rippling or bubbling effect (hence the frog’s name), it’s probably teeth-grindingly annoying to amorous gentlemen (yes, most frogs do have small teeth; some even have vomerine teeth that sprout from the roof of their mouth). In an effort to get a word in edgewise, male kassinas serenade antiphonally; that is, they carefully utter their boips in the space between the boips of their rivals. Begging meerkat pups use the same technique; in fact experiments show that adult meerkats bring more food to a speaker playing two pups begging antiphonally than to the same two begging simultaneously (I warned you I’d have trouble staying focussed tonight).

Now I don’t know what all this means for my effluent dwellers. Will the males position themselves around my lounge and kitchen, singing their hearts out from my bookshelves and stove? Will female kassinas come scratching at the windows like Cathy’s ghost? And will lovelorn couples then converge on my bathroom to indulge in hot amplexus in the toilet bowl? 
Hmm, something to look forward to I guess...

Female bubbling kassinas lay 100 to 500 eggs.  OH GOD!
Photo posted on Flickr by liesvanrompaey.

I was planning to tell you all about the kassinas’ ugly duckling tadpoles who look so similar to tiny fish that metamorphosis must come as a real shock to them. However, the prospect of a toilet bowl brimming with tadpoles (even spiffy goldfish-like ones) is too distressing to contemplate. Additionally, I couldn’t find a SINGLE image of the little creatures anywhere on the internet. I’ve resolved that when my resident kassinas do become parents, I’ll take a photo of their ankle-nibblers (come Hell or high water – oh yuk!) and post it – free for use – all over cyberspace.
Actually, the real reason I’m finishing up now is because I’m afraid I’m going succumb to major renal problems if I don’t IMMEDIATELY go and pollute my kassinas' home...

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