Highland Beach putting frogs on mosquito patrol

June 14, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Citronella candles, an electric bug zapper and Malathion couldn't control the mosquitoes in the pond behind deLois Stevenson-Nicholas's Highland Beach house. Now she's staging an amphibian assault.

Yesterday afternoon, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources dumped about 1,500 tadpoles and frogs into the pond.

Most were bullfrogs, which on maturity weigh a pound or more and love a meal of bugs.

"They will eat every insect they can shove in their mouth," said H. Robert Lunsford, chief of the DNR's freshwater fisheries division.

"It sounds wonderful," Ms. Nicholas said as her brother, Clyde Stevenson, and Mr. Lunsford poured seven coolers full of the amphibians into the shallow water. "This is heaven."

The freshwater pond is across the street from the Chesapeake Bay. Whether it was built for drainage or is natural is unknown, but it has been there since the house was built more than 70 years ago for the family of Ms. Nicholas' husband, Julian Cardozo Nicholas.

Highland Beach is a century-old private community started by a son of abolitionist Frederick Douglass as a vacation spot for blacks.

Several weeks ago, Ms. Nicholas consulted her neighbor, Sterling Perry, the pond's co-owner, about the mosquito problem.

"You know, the food chain," Ms. Nicholas said. "I figured something must eat these mosquitoes."

She called the county Department of Public Works seeking gambusia, called mosquitofish because their favorite food is mosquito larvae. The agency didn't have any. She turned to the DNR, pleading with Mr. Lunsford for anything that would eat mosquitoes, including tadpoles. Tadpoles are vegetarian, she was told, but frogs eat mosquitoes.

She called at the right time. The DNR was about to drain the last of its 29 fish hatchery ponds near Waldorf. The hatchery is popular with breeding frogs, whose tadpoles usually get flushed into a swamp, Mr. Lunsford said. Not this time.

Mr. Lunsford said he will call this summer to find out whether the invasion of the amphibians made a difference in Highland Beach. He predicted that in a few weeks, the neighborhood will notice a decline in the mosquito population. If the frogs take care of the problem, the DNR will take orders next spring for small quantities of tadpoles.

Cyrus Lesser, chief of the state Department of Agriculture's mosquito control program, doubted the frogs would be effective because mosquitoes aren't their first choice.

"A grasshopper, a nice juicy worm, a big beetle -- something the size of a bullfrog is going to eat something larger first if it is going to expend the energy," he said.

His program throws free mosquitofish into thousands of ponds each year, mostly storm water retention ponds. A call brings an inspector out because a pond must meet certain criteria to get gambusia, he said.

Mr. Lunsford figures 1,000 of the frogs taken to Highland Beach will survive to next year, half of them croaking males.

"I don't want any noise complaints next year," he said. "I am not coming back for a nuisance frog problem."

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