Log Cabin Chronicles

Frogs what sing in the Spring

Beth Girdler


Not too long ago the temperature rose, trees such as aspen, willow, and maple began to bloom, insects emerged, and, voilà, the insect-eaters appeared -- flycatchers, swallows, and warblers are back and frogs and salamanders are crawling out from mud and leaf litter.

My mother and I went out for an evening walk on the Tomifobia Nature Trail, just outside of Ayer's Cliff. The air smelled fresh and sweet with wet warm earth and clear spring runoff. We stopped to watch an Eastern Phoebe picking flies out of the air as the sky slowly darkened, when suddenly we were enveloped by the ringing voices of a wetland choir.

The sound was glorious and warmed my heart. We just stood and let the calls of spring peepers wash over us. Better than any symphony orchestra -- I highly recommend the experience.

Spring peepers, Pseudacris crucifer, are members of the tree frog family, Hylidae. These are small frogs with adhesive toe pads adapted for climbing trees and shrubs where they feed on insects.

The scientific name, crucifer, refers to the dark, crucifix-like marking on the back of each spring peeper. Peepers are very difficult to spot in the wild since they are only 1.9 to 3.5 cm in length, because they are master ventriloquists, and because they can modify their color to match their surroundings. Last summer a peeper stayed on a phlox leaf in my garden for over a week. The frog adopted a particularly lovely green hue.

Male peepers give high-pitched ascending whistles while perched on vegetation over water, advertising their presence to available females. The eggs of spring peepers are like a globe of jelly. The female secures each egg to a stone or water plant.

Farther along the trail, past the Boynton Road, we walked into what sounded for all the world like a heated debate in the House of Commons.

n a temporary wetland, wood frogs Rana sylvatica were barking funny rapid-fire calls (described as a short raspy quack - cack-a-hack, or r-r-racket, r-r-racket) that sounded very much like barely restrained froggy swear words.

Wood frogs are 3.5 to 8.3 cm in length with fawn-brown skin attractively set off by a dark mask over the eyes. The only frog species found north of the Arctic Circle, the wood frog has the amazing ability to freeze solid during hibernation, thaw, and survive. Some component of wood-frog blood acts as antifreeze, preventing the water content from forming ice crystals and damaging tissue.

No wonder scientists interested in cryogenics are studying these frogs.

Almost as soon as you hear wood frogs "quacking" in the spring, you can find their blobby egg masses floating in ditches and standing water in wooded areas. These masses can contain 2000 to 3000 eggs each.

After breeding season, wood frogs can be found far from water in moist woodlands, grasslands, and tundra.

As we headed home, the voices of the peepers and wood frogs receding in the distance, we heard the unmistakable call of a barred owl "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all."

Ah, spring is grand, isn't it?

If you live anywhere near Ayer's Cliff and would like to hear the calls of spring frogs take a walk between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. along the Tomifobia Nature Trail. You can park on the left of the 141 (before the river) then head away from Ayer's Cliff. Stop by wet areas and wait quietly. When the frogs think you are gone, the concert will begin. For more specific directions call me at (819) 838-4366 or e-mail me at laker@abacom.com .

P.S.: Last week I saw tree swallows (yay!), wood ducks, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, yellow-rumped warbler and heard a winter wren. I have reports of bluebirds as well.

Beth Girdler, naturalist, writes from Ayer's Cliff, Quebec.

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Copyright © 2000 Beth Girdler/Log Cabin Chronicles/05.2000