“I have seen ten different species here in Nuwara Eliya,” Ishanda Jetwing St Andrews hotel naturalist tells me, “Seven can be seen on this tour if you are lucky!”
As if by design, the first frog is actually a toad and is the Common Toad, given it can be found all over India and Sri Lanka. Nonetheless, it’s the biggest of all the ones we see and is quite a character in its own right as it is a female toad and as such is three times the size of a male. Ishanda asks us, “Do you know the difference between a frog and a toad?” I feel like I really should know the answer to this and think that it is to do with the roughness of their skin. I’m half right but the defining feature is that frogs can breathe through their skin as well as their mouths and nostrils, while toads just have to settle with mouths and nostrils and the ability to give warts to witches, in revenge.
On entering the pond enclosure we spot another Common Toad, of course, crying out to be a prince again; we recap the previous conversation for the sake of my two sons Amzar and Samad who by now have a good grasp of things, including what they are carrying. Then we start poring over big leaves looking for frog eggs and peering into the water to spot the next much smaller but more exotic offerings of frogs with names like montane, hourglass and Horton Plains shrub frog. Ishanda is very well informed and has a natural peace about him in concert with the surrounding little wetland reserve. He tells us about the frog that lays its eggs on heart shaped leaves to protect them from predators on the ground or in the water and enable the male to fertilise them more readily, and then about the pseudo-frogs who aren’t really frogs as their eggs spawn miniature frogs rather than tadpoles and therefore do not comply with the frog’s code of metamorphic magic.
We move out of the reserve and up through some streets to the wild forest on higher ground where we finally end our walk upwards, having spotted six different species of frogs and toads. There is a slight air of disappointment with the boys as we turn around and start our descent as we thought we would see seven and had a clear picture in our minds, given by Ishanda, of what the seventh would look like. Then, magically, Amzar fascinated by the wild passion fruit flowers claims there is one right here and somehow I know he’s right and back up my torch a couple of feet to expose the tiniest of frogs parked on a leaf. Ishanda comes back and everyone is excited to see that it is indeed the leaf nesting shrub frog, which is a baby given it still has a little black streak on its back that disappears as it grows bigger. Everyone celebrates as we study this little fellow who is little bigger than a grain of rice and was quite clearly meant to be seen by us – perhaps it will turn back into a prince when we are gone, now that it has been blessed by another prince, Amzar, which is the meaning of my sons name given to him at birth by the horoscope reader.