THE TURKISH DELIGHT OF THE ANATOLIAN WETLANDS

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THE TURKISH DELIGHT OF THE ANATOLIAN WETLANDS

This article must seem a little unusual to those who are used to a more historical outlook on Turkey, but I have written on something that is close to my heart and maybe I might trigger your interest too.

I am an Australian and in Australia, we have an inheritance of natural beauty within our National and Marine Conservation parks. We also have an abundance of natural beauty and wildlife living around us daily within our own backyards.

In contemplating what to write for this article, I could not help but think about my own small garden in my suburban home. Where do I stand in the big picture? After retiring and moving into a smaller dwelling and having a wasteland void of anything green in my backyard, I decided to improve my environment and went to work to create an eco-friendly environment whereby our native frogs could breed and survive in suburbia. My home is in a new estate and after bulldozers had devastated the frog’s natural habitat. I took some time out to try and put back a little of what they have lost. I am happy to report that I have been successful and now have a happy population of Green Tree Frogs, Sedge Frogs and Marsh Frogs. So when deciding on what to write for this article it wasn’t hard for me to take a look at what the Turkish environment offered with regard to frog conservation. I was surprised to find that Turkey also has a wonderful rich natural history, especially in Anatolia. I didn’t need much more encouragement to select the Turkish Marsh Frog for its unusual habits and delectable qualities for the subject in my article. .

I found that Turkey is a country which is rich and diverse in flora and fauna Anatolia is home to the richest collection of all Turkish plants and animals. Turkey also has 40 national parks and 189 nature parks with 80 wildlife protected areas. Turkey is an intercontinental country covering parts of both Europe and Asia with 97% of the country in Asia and the remaining 3% found in Europe. The Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits and the Sea of Marmara separate these two parts of Turkey.

It is in the wetlands of Northern Turkey where we find the Turkish Marsh Frog. You may ask, Why is she writing about a small frog out in the wetlands? Well, in my research I found out that the Turkish Marsh Frog (Pelophylaz ridibundus) is the largest native frog in Europe and belongs to the family of true frogs. It can reach a maximum length of 17 cm. The head is proportionally large and the hind legs are long which aids their jumping abilities. There is a large variation in colour and pattern ranging from dark green to brown or grey. The diet of the Turkish Marsh Frog consists mainly of Dragonflies and other small insects such as flies and it loves to live and breed in Turkish marshlands.

It was sad to find out in my research that about half of the wetlands in Turkey have dried up in the last 40 years due to a combination of increasing temperatures, drought and excessive abstraction of water for agriculture. Knowing that this is frog is endemic to these wetlands increased my interest in bringing you this article. The Turkish Marsh frog is a very aquatic species of frog and has a water-based life in these wetlands. As with other frogs, the toes of the Marsh frog are webbed to both assist the Marsh frog in swimming and when negotiating slippery banks. The eyes of the Marsh frog are also on top of its head which means that they can be looking on the surface of the water while the body of the marsh frog is safely submerged.

As with many other amphibious animals, the Marsh frog is a carnivore, meaning that it only eats other animals in order to survive. Marsh frogs primarily feed on small invertebrates in, on or close to water including various species of insect, spiders and moths. The Marsh frog has a number of predators within its natural environment. Birds, large toads, fish, mammals and lizards all prey on the Marsh Frog.

Marsh frogs tend to breed in the early spring when mating takes place in calm shallow pools of water. The female Marsh frog lays around 1,000 eggs in a sticky cluster that floats on the water’s surface known as frogspawn. Once developed the Marsh frog tadpoles emerge into the water where they are fully aquatic until they metamorphose into adult Marsh frogs and are able to leave the water.

Along the coast of the Black Sea and in the wetlands of Northern Turkey, our little amphibians have also been spotted riding on the backs of water buffalo. In this region freshwater and brackish lakes are home to grazing domesticated Anatolian Water Buffaloes, who wander through the marshy wetlands from April to November each year. It was found recently that water buffaloes who were grazing the wetlands had buffalo-riding amphibian passengers who had hopped on their backs like hitchhikers. The frogs selectively eating flies from the buffaloes bodies. It is unusual to see frogs who have a mutual relationship with mammals. We know of birds who have a shared relationship but amphibians is not common. It is also thought that the Turkish Marsh Frog also uses the buffaloes body for warmth throughout the cooler months.

The Turkish Marsh Frog is also edible which makes it most interesting. You could not eat a Marsh Frog in Australia. It is protected and only half the size of your thumb. There are a significant amount of edible frogs throughout the world. Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of edible frogs. This exportation, however, does not stop the poaching of the Turkish Marsh Frog which is poached prolifically for the quality and size of its long back legs which are rather tasty! Turkish authorities are always on the lookout for smugglers of the Turkish Marsh Frog and recently Turkish authorities caught 7,500 Turkish frogs being smuggled out of the country to their French neighbour who is the largest consumer of frogs in the world. Fortunately, the 7,500 frogs were released back into Turkish wetlands and Turkish Lakes to continue living in the country where they were born.

Today, although not in immediate danger of becoming extinct in the wild, the marsh frog populations are under increased threat due primarily to deforestation and pollution of their natural habitats let alone their fight to stay out of the stomachs of foodies all over Europe.

I would challenge anyone with a heart for our environment to give breeding your own frogs a try. It worked for me and although it is only a small step in a large picture it helps us to give back just a little of what we are taking out of the natural world every day. It is easy to obtain tadpoles to give yourself a start and it won’t be long before you hear little croaks on a wet day. It has been revealed that only about 1% of frogs eggs survive to adulthood in the wild, so they have a tough journey to get to the stage of having a little bit of Turkish delight on the backs of a water buffalo.

So on your next culinary visit to your favourite restaurant, keep your eye open for large tender frogs legs on the menu and give a thought to the Turkish Marsh Frog. Your Turkish delight might have just started its life in the Anatolian wetlands of Turkey!

Written by: Sandy Giles

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