By a quiet pond, at the side of a cloud-topped mountain in Peru, lived a small green frog and his large green family. When the early evenings darkened the sky, the frogs would gather on the slippery banks by the water and listen to family legends and to stories of the land that lay beyond their tranquil home. The little frog was the youngest of many brothers and sisters, and his life seemed very ordinary when he heard of his relatives’ wild adventures.
“Sometimes the sun was so large and hot that it sucked the water from the ground,” his green grandfather croaked. “Your toes turned brown and you could hardly hop across the hot earth.”
“And once,” his older brother excitedly said, “a cloud swooped down and carried us up and up into the sky until the air turned dark and there were great flashes of light.” The little frog gasped in horror. “And then we washed down with the slanting rain to the ground. It was raining frogs that day!”
“Remember those great orange flowers as big as the moon,” another said, “and those enormous insects? What frog feast one of those would have made!” Then two slightly younger frog voices chimed. “And there were rainbows in the mist above the waterfalls and we slid on them.”
“Until your bottoms got sore!” croaked a third gleefully, and their mother scolded him into silence. After such evenings, the little frog could not sleep. He stared at the moon and wondered if his travels would ever become a part of frog history.
How deep these young frogs’ croaks were becoming, thought the small frog dreamily. They had returned from their wanderings quite changed—larger, ready for action, jostling and pushing each other like young warriors. And, the little frog remembers sadly, they laughed at him rudely when he slipped on a mossy rock or missed a juicy bug to eat.
“Never mind, frogling,” they would say in their jolly, rough voices. “You’ll grow up one of these days and go downstream. Of course, it’s not the same anymore. Getting pretty tame these days.” His time would come, the little frog knew, but what if, when he got there, it would no longer differ from the place where he lived? His throat grew tight and throbbed with pain.
Sometimes the frog was left with only his own imagination to entertain him. The others all felt they were too big to play silly games with youngsters like him.
One sunny day, he sat upon a rock casting a dark shadow, as dark as his thoughts, until, as he stretched his legs, he saw the shadow change and change again with every move he made. Curving his back and holding up two toes, his shadow became a horned snail. Standing tall on two hind feet, he became a giant frog, and using a lily flower as a trumpet, he screamed into the rocks until his voice sounded like thunder. Several of his sisters splashed madly in the water at the noise, and the little frog laughed raucously until they pelted him with small stones. It was magical! Life was already exciting. Except on cloudy days, of course, when he slept under the green leaves and dreamed away the long afternoons.
Occasionally, as the small green frog sat upon the rock amusing himself, he would see a young girl coming down the steep mountain path carrying a load of wash to the stream. Always hovering behind her was a monstrous, bloody-beaked bird. Bald and hunch-backed, with a ruff of unkempt feathers about his scrawny neck, the condor was a frightening sight.
The frog would quickly hide in the water when they approached and peep out from the rock’s deep shadow. A condor was certainly to be feared, and this one was larger than all the other condors, ruling his domain by terror. His great talons extended, he would plunge downward through the sky to grasp his victims and carry them away to his mountain cave where they became his dinner or, as in the young girl’s case, his slaves.
The condor ordered the girl about, mocking her tears of sadness and her longing for her parents. “They have forgotten you,” he sneered. “You are better off here. At least there is plenty of good, red meat to eat.”
Every day the little frog listened to their conversations with more and more interest. Collyur, or “morning star,” was the girl’s name.
The frog heard her dreadful master call her that. She was forced to work night and day cleaning the skins of llamas or vicunas and making the condor’s bed of soft feathers. She had been carried away from her loving parents, who, although poor, had never expected such a life of misery for their child. The girl often wept when she thought of them and wondered if she would ever see them again.
Sometimes, she seemed to notice the frog in his hiding place and her sad eyes would brighten a little, for he was the only other living creature, beside the majestic bird, that she ever saw.
“Now,” the frog thought, “this must be Collyur’s adventure, her trip away from a safe home and friends into the unknown.” It lacked a happy ending, but how could a small frog help?
In his shadow play one day, he dangled ferns about his small head, which became hair and made a silhouette figure not unlike Collyur’s. He felt what she must feel, and it filled his heart with pity.
One day, on the pathway to the giant bird’s cave, he heard Collyur’s voice begging the condor for permission to wash her clothes while he napped. “You must make my dinner,” said the condor “Oh, no! You’ll hear my stick beating the wash and know that I’m still there.” “Well, you had better be good,” said the bird, “or I will punish you. Or eat you!” he added with a horrible dribbling sound.
Down the path hurried Collyur. She bent down at the water’s edge, and her tears splashed upon the rock where the little green frog was hiding. It overcame the frog with an emotion he had never felt before. “Don’t cry,” he whispered, trying to put as much strength and courage into his voice as he could. “Run! I will help you.”
For a moment, after hearing the frog speak, Collyur was too startled to move. But then she gathered her wits about her and bravely started her escape. Before she left, she placed a tender kiss upon the frog’s brow. Quickly, the small frog cast a shadow just like Collyur’s, and grasping a stick between his toes, he beat it steadily against the rock.
When the condor turned his sleepy eyes down upon the stream, he thought he saw Collyur’s shadow as he heard the rhythm of her stick upon the wash. Time passed, enough for Collyur to escape down the mountain and into the care of some shepherds whose slingshots and staffs could chase away any condor.
As for the frog, sometime later he heard the condor’s rasping cry. When the bird arrived at the stream, he saw nothing but a small splash and a pile of clothes.
The little frog swam slowly home. He felt brave and confident and realized for the first time that adventure was everywhere. It could happen to anyone; small or large, young or old, it made no difference. Suddenly, in a moment, an entire life could be changed.
The frog shouted in happiness when he saw his large, green family sitting on the slippery bank in the early evening. As he looked into their faces, he noticed that something had happened to him. Glancing down into the water, he saw with amazement a beautiful star-shaped jewel shining like the morning star where Collyur had kissed him.
Indeed, the star was a medal for bravery and was worn by all the frog’s descendants to remind them that wonderful things can happen to small green frogs with large imaginations.
Background Information on the Jeweled Frog (Hyla miyatai)
Investigating this beautiful Peruvian folk tale, we discovered that there is an actual tree-frog species (Hyla miyatai) nicknamed “Jeweled Frog”. Even though being a tree-frog to some extent contradicts the tale, its colors coincide completely, allowing the interpretation of the frog “wearing” a “Jewel”.
Specimens collected exhibited drastic color changes during the day, the red markings changed to bright metallic golden, the yellow areas turned into pale pink, cream or lime green and the pink surfaces changed to pale yellow or remained pale pink. These chromatic changes were observed in all during the day, turning into the bright red/yellow coloration during the night.
Several species of tree-frogs inhabit the western Amazonian lowlands and the “Hyla miyatai” has been mainly found in the Garzacocha area in Amazonian Ecuador and subsequently reported from few additional localities, all widely separated: Iquitos, Perú; Amazonas, Colombia, and Rio Juruá, in Brasil.
- Cisneros-Heredia, D. F. (2003): Herpetofauna de la Estación de Biodiversidad
- Tiputini; pp: 1-21. In: De la Torre, S. & Reck, G. (Eds.): Ecología y ambiente en el Ecuador
- Congr. Ecología y Ambiente. CD. Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador
- Gascon, C. (1996): Amphibian litter fauna and river barriers in flooded and non-flooded Amazonian rain forests