Over the weekend, I may well have saved the Maine woods from a bloodthirsty beast named Frogzilla. At least, that’s the way I’ve chosen to rationalize the fact that when I look in a mirror, the face staring back at me belongs to a mean old grump who ruined a 9-year-old boy’s school vacation.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our tale of woe (or, if you prefer, our tale describing how our hero saved the Maine woods) began last week, when my girlfriend Karen took her three children on a nice vacation trip to an indoor water park in New Hampshire.
During that trip to North Conway, more than a fair bit of shopping took place. And on one of their final stops, at a quite impressive toy store, 9-year-old Gordon found exactly what he never knew he’d always wanted.
It was a grow-your-own frog kit.
What right-minded 9-year-old boy wouldn’t love that? Heck, even I was impressed. According to the side of the box, the frog (not yet named Frogzilla) would be quite impressive. It would be born in a laboratory. It would have whiskers. Its skin would be see-through. And if you were patient enough, it would be entirely possible (according to representatives of the frog factory) to teach it tricks.
Yes, Frogzilla would give you a high five. And it would even eat out of your hand.
As a 40-something big kid who grew up reading comic books featuring ads that pitched the wonders of magical “just add water” sea monkeys, I was intrigued.
“His name is Sir Jumps-alot,” Gordon told me, grinning.
A great name, I assured him. Then I heard the rest of the story, and I realized the Sir Jumps-alot saga might not turn out so well.
The grow-a-frog kit doesn’t really come with a frog, you see. Instead, you have to order your very own tadpole (Sir Squiggles-alot, I suppose), and would get to raise the little critter yourself. Still pretty cool.
Karen was already a bit nervous. She had learned (after paying for the kit) that Sir Jumps-alot was from a long-lived species of frog. Many survive seven years. And the frog that toy store employees keep behind the checkout counter at the New Hampshire toy store? It was a gray-whiskered 23-year-old.
According to my quick math, that meant Gordon may well be 32 years old by the time Sir Jumps-alot met his maker. Even more alarming: It was entirely possible that I’d be enlisted as a part-time frog-sitter until I reached my 70th birthday.
Then I asked the question that ruined Gordon’s vacation.
“Do you know if it’s legal to have those kinds of frogs in Maine?” I ventured.
I explained to Gordon that the state doesn’t allow just any animal to live here. We talked about invasive species, and how some people set animals free in the wild, only to find out later that doing so had made things very tough for the native critters.
He seemed to understand. He also wanted to order his tadpole as soon as possible.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife maintains a list of unrestricted exotic animals on its website, and Karen got to work to find out if Sir Jumps-alot’s adoption would be acceptable. All variety of critters are included. And like an exclusive party at a happening club, if you’re not on the list, you don’t get in.
Six frog species were on the list.
Sir Jumps-alot, so far as we could figure out, was not.
A bit more digging showed us that our particular species of frog may be particularly invasive. It may have been banned in at least 11 states. And it may be prone to eating its mates (and any other frog it encountered).
Simply put, if released into the wild, Sir Jumps-alot could morph into Frogzilla. Women and children would scream. Cities would topple. Civilization as we know it could well end. (Again, I’m rationalizing).
Now, I write a lot of stories about invasive species. I regularly rail against those who stock illegal fish in our state’s waters. And in the back of my mind, I could see the terrifying headline, in 72-point war type: “Maine Wardens Arrest BDN Outdoor Columnist for Harboring Invasive Froglike Beast.”
Subhed: “You’d think he would have known better.”
Fortunately for me (and, I keep telling myself, for the Maine woods), I did know better. We didn’t order the tadpole. Sir Jumps-alot will not be coming to Bangor.
One of these days — maybe when he turns 12 or 14 — Gordon will even forgive me for ruining his school vacation by denying him the pet he never knew he’d always wanted.