Wood Frogs and Frozen Hearts

There’s this frog that inhabits most of the upper half of North America that has gained the attention of biologists all over the world. The frog doesn’t look like anything special. It’s small and brown and eats bugs. It’s the state frog of New York and ranges from North Carolina to Alaska. Like most other northern frogs, the wood frog hibernates in the winter. However, unlike most other northern frogs, the wood frog can turn to ice. (Move over, Elsa, here comes the wood frog).

Unlike modern scientists, the wood frog has mastered the art of cryogenics. During the winter, around half of the frogs’ bodies can literally turn to ice — which is good, since they are the only species of frog to live above the Arctic Circle. While frozen, the frogs’ breathing and heartbeat stop. The blood and other tissues actually freeze. The frogs are able to thaw and return to normal once their hibernation is complete, completely undamaged.

Assuming wood frogs lack the higher order cognitive processing humans do, the wood frog is completely unaware of how unique it’s hibernation adaptation is (and if the wood frog is on our level, we can be sure it’s mocking all the cryogenic scientists every time it turns to ice, I mean, look at that face…)

a wood frog looking rather smug at himself for being able to turn to ice

Wood frogs turn to ice because it’s in their (frozen) blood. During one the hardest seasons for animals, wood frogs have found a way to survive that is unlike any other. Bears fatten up, squirrels load up on nuts, and wood frogs? They just wait it out. They understand that this too shall pass. These tiny amphibians that eat even tinier bugs know that if they wait a little while, winter will end — even if that means having tiny ice crystals form beneath their skin.

What’s interesting about that is that these tiny frogs, with tiny ice crystals, that eat tinier bugs understand something that, sometimes, not many humans understand: there is an end to hard times.

Wood frogs probably have no idea for how many days, weeks, and months they’ll have to stay in this frozen state, but they know that they’ll thaw out eventually. They have frozen before and they will freeze again. They’ve thawed once, they will thaw again.

Sometimes life can cause us to freeze up. Sometimes it feels like our hearts have stopped and that they won’t ever beat again. We have all suffered through awful, terrible, no good seasons of our lives and some of us are still suffering. Sometimes it seems like these frozen times won’t ever thaw — that our winter seasons are sempiternal. We can lose track of days, weeks, and months stuck in our frozen, unmoving states. That’s okay.

It’s easy to get stuck in cyclical states of suffering. It’s easy to feel as though the season won’t end. It’s okay. It’s easier to freeze up than it is to thaw. It’s easier still to not notice you’ve frozen.

There’s this old saying about putting a frog into boiling water. Something about the frog will jump out of hot water, but won’t notice if he slowly comes to a boil. I think the wood frog is the same way — except on the opposite end of the temperature spectrum. The whole boiling frog phrase is a metaphor meaning we have a tendency to not react to gradual change, as opposed to a sudden change. We won’t really notice until we’re boiling and it’s too late. We won’t really notice until our hearts have stopped from the ice crystals in our blood stream.

We mustn’t let that keep us there, though. Frozen we may be now, but the cold, dark season has to end eventually. The world will keep rotating around the sun and we will thaw. As cold and unmoving our hearts might seem, they will beat again.

We just have to wait it out, like the tiny wood frogs do.

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