Eastern businessmen thought Grant County was the perfect place to start a new ranching enterprise in 1937, but they weren’t interested in the usual livestock. R.J. Paul returned to John Day in November of that year to check up on “plantings” of bullfrogs, Rama catesbeiana, that had been placed in ponds just outside of the city a few years prior, and “marveled at the size attained by the amphibians.”
A Nov. 27, 1937, story in the East Oregonian interviewed Paul, who said the bullfrogs would be shipped to several markets, including restaurants and private homes for French cuisine gourmands and laboratories for medical and drug research. Tentative plans had been made to place about 1,000 two-year-old bullfrogs in ponds outside John Day for breeding stock. Shallow ponds left by dredgers were perfectly suited to the breeding of bullfrogs, according to Paul. Bullfrogs can reach 8 inches long and weigh up to 1.5 pounds by the time they are fully mature, about five years old, and can live as long as 40 years — barring freezing, drying out or begin eaten by other wildlife.
A further benefit for area residents was touted by Paul — a reduction in the mosquito population. Mature frogs derive much of their food from mosquitoes and other insects, but also eat birds, snakes, mice and fish. Bullfrogs only eat moving prey, but they will eat almost anything that fits in their mouths.
Male bullfrogs are also very territorial and cannibalistic, eating smaller bullfrogs if they can, and tadpoles also prey on each other. A publication by the Missouri Department of Conservation says that a mature bullfrog will defend as much as 20 feet of shoreline as its “exclusive hunting preserve.” Which means that anyone wanting to raise bullfrogs commercially would need either a lot of shoreline or a way to keep them from eating each other.
Of course, when you introduce a non-native species to a new area, trouble often follows. A bullfrog’s native habitat is in the southern and eastern parts of the United States. These transplanted monsters have, understandably, taken over many of the habitable areas of the John Day River system, and often out-compete Pacific tree frogs, western and spade foot toads and other native amphibian species for food and breeding grounds. Bullfrogs are, however, classified as a game fish in Oregon, so if you have a hankering for frog’s legs, you’ll be doing the area a favor if you grab a bucket and catch yourself some dinner (just be sure to follow state fishing guidelines).