I had frogs on the brain. We’d changed our hiking plans around for the weekend due to some signs we’d seen along SR 46 for something called Battlefrog, which sounded like yet another obstacle run. It was, oddly, being held at Rock Springs Run Reserve State Park, despite the digging of mud pits and building of climbing walls not being very compatible with the scrub habitat. So any thought of driving in that direction early Saturday was out. Instead, we headed up to Royal Trails yesterday.

Scrub habitat at Royal Trails
Scrub habitat at Royal Trails

We found no frogs there, but we did see sign of bears. Royal Trails has lots of roadside signs warning you about bears. On the Florida Trail, the signs are more subtle. A pile of scat, still steaming. Footprints in the sand. A large scuffle in the underbrush. Still, the bears kept stealthy. We key-swapped so we could both hike the newly relocated section, each in a different direction, to double our chances of a bear encounter. It was a well-marked and well-groomed 3.1 miles of trail, and our thanks go to the FTA Highlanders Chapter for that.

Bear paw print in the Florida Trail
Bear paw print in the Florida Trail (John Keatley)

Afterwards, we drove towards DeLand looking for lunch, with a scenic pause waiting for the drawbridge on the Whitehair Bridge as a very large houseboat puttered past on the St. Johns. As we came up to J.C.’s Lobster Pot, I was surprised to see cars in the lot. It used to be one of my favorite stops for seafood, but I thought it had closed years ago. “Let’s stop!” I said.

JCs Lobster Pot Deland
JC’s down home charm along SR 44

The entrance looked the same as always. The menus looked the same as always. The bikers in the back of the place looked the same as always. I felt like I’d slipped back a decade, which was probably the last time I’d eaten here. This was John’s first visit. My fave on the menu is their Coquille St. J.C.’s, a riff on Coquille St. Jacques, a lovely baked seafood dish that’s very hard to find.

JCs menu
JC’s Lobster Pot menu

As I put down my menu, I thought I saw a frog behind John. That didn’t make sense. Were there frog legs on the menu? I couldn’t remember. They wouldn’t keep frogs in a lobster tank, would they? I remained puzzled until the people sitting behind John left. I could finally see the aquarium, and the whopping big frog inside it. Even from eight feet away, I could tell it was albino.

John got up to take a look and read the little story on the wall next to the frog. “It’s an albino African clawed frog,” he said. “It flew in space.” Or at least that’s what I heard. I immediately dubbed it Spacefrog and went over to take a photo of it. It was very obliging.

albino African clawed frog
Meet Spacefrog

John went on to explain how schools would put together experiments that went into the Space Shuttle on every mission, and how all these little containers of experiments would be nestled into the spaceship, some needing care and some just there for the ride. In 1992, Space Shuttle Endeavour took this species of frog into space for a reproductive study.

Doing a little reading about these frogs, I found out that they can be hand-fed, they must live in water (hence the lack of anything for the frog to perch on in the tank), and they are escape artists. If the lid on the aquarium isn’t tight, off they go. Which is why they are illegal in eleven states, as they’ve gotten into rivers and lakes and started eating up all the native species. Oddly, Florida isn’t among the places they’re illegal.

Well, Spacefrog didn’t go into space itself, but it’s among that rare parade of species that’s been to zero-G. Next time you’re headed down SR 44 near DeLand, look for J.C.’s tucked under the live oak trees and stop for some fine baked seafood (or excellent shrimp) and to visit with the Spacefrog in the Lobster Pot.