If you have an in-ground pool, there's a good chance you've found a dead animal floating on the surface of the water or in the skimmer basket before.
Frogs, toads, rodents and insects such as bees, beetles or spiders seem to be the most common victims. "But, literally anything that might happen to be in someone's backyard will possibly get trapped in a pool," said Rich Mason, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Annapolis, Maryland, field office where he restores wetlands, streams and other wildlife habitats.
"On the East Coast, a lot of customers get frogs, but the worst thing is to wake up and find a dead chipmunk in the pool," said Mason. "Some would even find a family because the young chipmunks aren't as wary as their parents. In the Southwest, it's lizards, desert rats and scorpions. In California, I have several customers who get ducklings in the pool that can't get out. I've even had someone in Florida who has had larger animals like armadillos and possums in their pool. A lot of these animals are attracted to water, even bats. Bats will swoop down to scoop water off pools to get a drink and sometimes get their wings bogged down, and they can't get out either."
Mason is passionate about wildlife, so he decided to do something to help animals escape certain death. His solution was to create a simple but effective escape route from a swimming pool. His wife, Barb, named it the FrogLog. The device consists of a mesh strip attached to a semi-circular floating foam pad with a mesh ramp that extends from the pad over the edge of the pool to the pool deck. A weighted pad attached to the end of the ramp on the pool deck holds the FrogLog in place.
Essentially what happens when animals, insects or birds fall into a pool is that they swim to the edge to try and escape. They can't climb the slick edge of the pool, so they go round and round the pool bumping on the edge looking for a way out. Because there isn't one, they become exhausted and drown or, in the case of amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders), they are poisoned by chlorine or saltwater entering their permeable skin. But when they bump into this device, they crawl onto the mesh landing strip, move onto the foam pad, proceed up the ramp and escape. You can see how it works in the video above.
Mason estimates the FrogLog is saving more than a million animals of all kinds a year. "We figure that there are somewhere north of 100,000 of these in use, and by a conservative count each one of them saves 10 or 20 animals a year. And then there are countless beneficial insects that are saved (bees, beetles, spiders and more) that find their way to the FrogLog. Some of them don't," he acknowledges, but he is nonetheless delighted by the many lives the device does save.
Proof it works
How many ducklings can fit on a FrogLog? Quite a few, according to Sandy and Ryan Forbes, who live by a golf course and found the device was a great way to keep visiting ducks safe in their pool. (Photo: Sandy Forbes/FrogLog on Facebook)
Because creatures were falling into pools at night and no one was seeing them escape before sunrise, Mason wanted proof that it was his device that was eliminating — or at least greatly reducing — the number of dead animals found in pools. So, after he built his first FrogLog, he conducted a simple test.
"We put that FrogLog in a pool for a week or more, and we didn't find any more dead frogs in the skimmer basket," he said, adding that "of course, there was no real way to measure what was happening." Was that just a coincidence because no frogs happened to get into the pool those nights? There was no way to know. So, he added another step to the test that would tell him for sure if his invention really worked.
"I built a trap that was sort of like a minnow trap. It had a funnel that frogs could get in but, once there, couldn't figure out how to get out. I placed it at the top of the ramp so they would have to go into the trap after climbing out of the pool. Every morning I would go and check. We counted the number of frogs in the funnel trap, and then we looked at the skimmer. We collected around two weeks of data. There were only one or two dead frogs in the skimmer vs. 30-35 we found in the trap and released. So, we thought, hmmmmm …."
Wanting even more proof that the FrogLog was working but also how it worked, he conducted another test. "I would catch a bunch of frogs and other animals, put them in the pool and just sit and watch. What I observed was that the animals, once they decided they needed to get out of the pool, would swim to the edge and then bump their way around the edge of the pool until they would run into the FrogLog and climb out."
It all began in the garage
The story of the FrogLog began with Mason's reputation in the neighborhood and among his friends as a biologist who is knowledgeable and passionate about animals. "People would call me when they found a snake in their garage or a squirrel in their attic. Mostly it was friends who would say, ‘Hey, there's a snake in my garage.' So, I go over and help them out."
He came up with the idea for FrogLog in 2004 after some friends who had just built a pool on a wooded lot in central Maryland were finding dead frogs in their pool and asked for his help. "They called and said, 'Hey, we're finding dead frogs just about every single day in our skimmer basket.' I thought, 'Wow! That's terrible.' So, I decided to try and help them."
The first thing he did was to go online and look for data about dead animals being found in swimming pools. "There was absolutely nothing! There was some anecdotal information about how lots of frogs were getting trapped in pools. But that was it. I don't think anyone ever studied it before then, and I don't think anyone has studied it since. It's crazy! You know, we have pretty good data on the number of birds that are killed by tall buildings, cell towers and cats. We seem to have studied that pretty hard. But there's nothing on this."
He went to a store that sells boat cushions, looking at the foam and fabric options. "We pulled out the sewing machine and put together a crude float, basically. We learned a lot." But, mainly he said, "We learned that animals could find a way out of a pool if you gave them a chance."
He and Barb made several prototypes and gave them to some friends to see if they worked. "The feedback was pretty positive. So, at that point we decided what the heck!"
Realizing he was on to something, he contracted out the sewing. He also connected with the nonprofit group Opportunity Builders, which works with handicapped adults, to build the FrogLogs. He sold a couple dozen devices the first year. After that, sales kept growing, up to a couple of hundred a year. That was in the mid-2000s.
But Mason is a biologist, not a manufacturer, so he went to a pool industry trade show in Atlantic City in 2010, with the idea that a pool manufacturer might be able to provide the answers to his biggest questions.
"Just by luck, I met the president of Swimline Corp., Jordan Mindich, and he told me to call him," Mason said. "We worked together to develop the current version of the FrogLog, which has undergone several upgrades. Swimline is a manufacturer and distributor of pool products and is responsible for broad distribution of the FrogLog to pool stores and online retailers. Mason remains the primary promoter of the product, which he markets through videos on the website and other outreach. The website is the also the main source of his sales. He also sells FrogLogs wholesale to stores and online vendors.
Helping animals — and making humans happy
FrogLog is being used in more than 25 countries, but its global popularity isn't what makes Mason most happy. It's the testimonials he gets about how well the product works and the sheer number of creatures it's saving.
"The coolest part of this whole thing is the passionate emails we get from people who use it," Mason said. "A lot of them have had pools for many, many years, and they hated the fact that on a regular basis they were having to empty their skimmer baskets with dead animals. ... I get several calls a year from first-time pool owners who state some variation of: 'Nobody told us about the carnage of wildlife we would find in our pool. We hate this about our pool.' We're not only helping the animals, but it's really helpful for these pool owners who don't a want to kill animals and/or want to reduce their pool maintenance and keep their water clean."
The product even impressed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The group produced a video about it that sums up how one little product can make a big difference for wildlife.