Pet Frogs Tend to Live On and On

A mother in Rockville, Maryland, bought a tadpole for her daughter in 1989. The frog it became, Gilly, is still going strong, causing an inquiry into the lifespan of a pet frog is questioned. Amphibian experts say pet frogs are a lot heartier and longer-lived than gold fish, hamsters or even cats.

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It's the season for giving. But if you get a pet amphibian this holiday season, you might want to ask yourself: Am I really ready for such a long-term relationship? We recently got an e-mail from a woman who failed to ask that question 18 years ago when a small green gift frog named Gilly(ph) came into her life. Gilly is still around. His keeper wants to know how much longer this gift will keep on giving.

We asked NPR senior amphibian longevity correspondent John Nielsen - glad to know he finally has a gig he can handle - to find out.

JOHN NIELSEN: It was April 1989 when a family in Rockville, Maryland decided that it might be fun to watch a tadpole turn into a frog. So mom - Susanne Notting(ph) - ordered one from a dealer.

Ms. SUSANNE NOTTING (Resident, Rockville, Maryland): And in the mail arrives a tadpole in a Styrofoam square container - in the mail box. You come home from work and there it is. And actually, this tadpole is halfway into a frog by the time we got it.

NIELSEN: Notting's family put the tadfrog known as Gilly into an aquarium and watched it finish morphing. Then, the kids grew up and went to college. That made Mother Notting think a lot about a line written by the author Irma Bombeck.

Ms. NOTTING: Happiness is when the children leave home and the dog dies.

NIELSEN: At least two family cats and many gold fish have passed on, but not old Gilly the frog. And now, Notting wants to know - for what she calls planning purposes - how much longer this frog has got. It turns out that frog owners ask this kind of question all the time, according to Andy Snider of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California. Snider may be the world's leading expert on the life spans of pet frogs. He says hardly anybody seems to expect them to stick around for very long.

Mr. ANDY SNIDER (Director of Animal Care and Conservation, Fresno Chaffee Zoo): Oftentimes, these are the throwaway animals. You get them for a month or two, expect them to die and then you're done with them.

NIELSEN: Snider says the frogs most commonly sold as tadpoles - leopard frogs and bullfrogs - can last for more than a dozen years before they croak, so to speak. But there are a few species that can last much longer than that. Snider says this is news that makes some frog owners groan in desperation.

Mr. SNIDER: And the question often arises. Well, then what am I supposed to do with it.

NIELSEN: Please do not attempt to donate these old frogs to zoos, Snider says. And please do not flush them down toilets accidentally. Susanne Notting says she's willing to swear that this is not how her frog Gilly is going to go out.

Ms. NOTTING: This thing has slipped into the garbage disposal a couple of times and I frantically pulled it out. I mean, there are ways to get rid of him but I would never do that.

NIELSEN: In fact, if you push Notting, she'll admit that she loves Gilly. And Gilly appears to love her back, which is fortunate, says Andy Snider of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, because this is a love affair that could last for a very long time.

After looking at pictures of Gilly, he's decided that this is an African clawed toad frog that may just be entering its prime. He said these frogs sometimes live for more than 30 years.

John Nielsen, NPR News, Washington.

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