It seems that everywhere you look in the Cajun city of Rayne, you see frogs. They’re on the sidewalks, in front of stores, the police station and fire house, and the courthouse. And about two dozen frog murals are painted on the sides of buildings.
This is a southwest Louisiana city that proudly proclaims itself, “The Frog Capital of the World.” It all started in the late 1800s when Jacques Weil and his brothers started a frog export business. They were shipping the locally harvested frogs to restaurants in France where they were considered a delicacy.
Rayne has been celebrating its amphibian history with an annual frog festival, where queens pose with frogs, not princes. And frogs compete in races and jumping contests, while their less fortunate amphibian cousins end up being served as fried frog legs.
Today, the frog export companies are gone, but not the frogs. The flat countryside near Rayne is marked with low levees that confine foot-deep water in crawfish ponds. These ponds are the perfect breeding ground for large bullfrogs. And nighttime is the right time for catching frogs.
Small aluminum boats that crawl through the ponds on wheels during the day when they are used by crawfishermen to run their nets, double as a frogging transportation at night. For Laken Bischoff and her fiancé Jacob Zaunbrecher, this is a perfect date night.
“Since I was a little girl my dad would always bring me, “ Laken says. And the key to catching one of these giant bullfrogs is, “Firm grip. I can’t let it get away”.
Jacob Zaunbrecher admits he has found the perfect partner, “It’s quite nice whenever you can sit back and relax and just point the spotlight knowing that, I mean you saw her miss one time tonight, and that’s a rare occurrence”.
The frogs hang out along the edges of commercial crawfish ponds. Their white throads give them away in the spotlight. And within seconds, Laken has jumped out of the boat, waded to the shoreline and snatched the frog from the dark snake-infested water.
For Jacob and Laken, a good night of frogging can fill their small flatboat. “Hundreds,” says Jacob, “when you get in the triple digits you can say it’s definitely a successful night, hands down.”
These Rayne bullfrogs have another claim to frog fame. Twenty years before NASA had frogs floating in a space shuttle experiment, two bullfrogs from Rayne made a giant leap into orbit in 1970.
NASA strapped the frogs inside a tiny capsule and launched them into space on a one-way mission to test the effect of weightlessness on their inner ears, which are similar to those of humans. The test was a success and NASA said goodbye to the Cajun frogs.
The Rayne Chamber of Commerce has created a map showing the locations of the frog murals.