Spring has arrived when the swamp, ponds, and wetlands break into sound. The peepers are awake! It never fails to make me smile when I hear the first spring song from them. It’s another of life’s lessons – show your joy to the world, and sing when you are happy.
These little chorus frogs have a big voice, in a very tiny body, only about an inch long (2.5 cm), maybe 1.5 inches. And females are larger than males. Usually brown or a grayish -olive green, peepers are marked with markings on the back looking roughly like an “X”.
During the winter they hibernate, and in fact, their bodies can nearly freeze, or at least some of their body fluids. Their body produces its own antifreeze to protect the most vital organs. These chorus frogs survive the cold secluded under logs, leaf litter, or under edges of bark on trees during winter. They can literally almost freeze to death, then come back to life. Isn’t that amazing?
When the weather temperature warms, and stays above 40 degrees at night, these little frogs wake up. The peeping sounds are actually the little males, with a big voice, trying to attract mates. The females lay eggs in water, hence they are found singing in marshy wet areas. The males puff up their vocal sac by closing off their nostrils. When they squeeze their lungs, the air moves out of the lungs and across the vocal cords in the sac. Literally hundreds and even thousands of these males are singing to compete for the ladies’ attention in a large swamp or marsh. The overall sound is reminiscent of sleigh bells…hence the category of “chorus” frogs. Often it is hard to hear an individual trill or whistle with so many males singing. The sound can often carry a mile or two in a quiet spring evening.
(images courtesy of Dreamstime Stock royalty free photos)
After mating the female lays 900-1000 eggs per clutch, under vegetation, or debris in the water. Eggs hatch in a week or two, and another 4-6 weeks for the developing tadpoles, to grow, then climb from the water. Tadpoles feed on algae and vegetation. As adults, they eat insects like flies, beetles, ants and spiders. It is estimated some peeper frogs live up to 3 years. Adult peepers are hard to see, not only because they are small, but they often hide under leaves, grass and vegetation along the edge of the water. They do not climb trees like tree frogs even though they are adept climbers, preferring burrow into the ground or under vegetation. For the most part they are nocturnal, sleeping during the day and waking in late afternoon or early evening to sing and eat.
Once mating season is over, peepers will travel further from the water into surrounding wooded areas.
Peepers are the prey of other larger frogs, snakes, salamanders, skunks or birds like herons or raptors. In lakes and streams, fish and diving beetles may also feed on them. Several species of peepers populate the eastern United States, east of the Mississippi, from Georgia north into Canada.
One of my favorite sounds of spring is to sit in the growing darkness, and listen to the symphony they conduct. It is just magical. And later in the summer, the trees frogs themselves produce their own music.
What is your favorite spring sound? I’ll be keeping an ear tuned for more spring noises.