The sounds of spring can be heard before many of the signs of spring are seen. Most of these calls are male animals shouting out to the females of their species, “hey, look at me, I have great genes!”
Walk into a woods this time of year and you will hear a symphony of frogs’ song. Western chorus frogs, wood frogs, and spring peepers have moved to the wet, marshy areas to mate and reproduce.
They spend most of their time among the leaves of the forest floor. Warmer, wet weather brings the small frogs to life. In the case of the wood frog and spring peeper, the warm weather literally brings them back to life.
They survive the winter by pumping a sugar-like antifreeze substance into their cells. Over 70% of their body will freeze solid during the frigid months. They thaw out when temperatures start to rise above 40 degrees and can be calling for a mate within 24 hours. Chorus frogs burrow deep beneath the leaf litter to survive the cold temperatures.
The calls of these tree frogs are all different. Wood frogs make a short raspy quacking sound, resembling a small flock of ducks. Western chorus frog calls sound like a finger running across the teeth of a plastic comb. The most common and loudest frog sounds come from the spring peeper. Single peepers make a shrill peep sound, but in large numbers, the symphony sounds like sleigh bells.
While their calls are quite easy to hear, they are much more difficult to spot. Most of these frogs are barely an inch long and would fit on the face of a nickel. The spring peeper is light tan to dark brown with a large “X” on its back. The Wood frog, slightly larger at about 2 inches, is tan to reddish brown with a raccoon-like mask over its eyes. The western chorus frog is brown to dark gray with 3 dark stripes on its back.
Frogs are amphibians, they live two lives, one on land and one in the water. The shallow woodland ponds, or vernal pools, appear in early spring and disappear by mid to late summer. Because they do not support fish, they are the perfect habitat for reproduction. Female frogs will deposit their fertilized, gelatin looking eggs, below the water. In about two weeks the eggs with hatch into tadpoles.
Frogs play an important role in the ecosystem. They eat spiders, ants, beetles, mites, ticks and small snails. In turn, the frogs, eggs, and tadpoles are an important food source for other animals. They are very sensitive to chemical pollution and serve as an indicator of water quality. Habitat loss is a threat to these frogs as many wetlands are drained and developed.
Put on some boots and take a walk in the woods. Listen for the frogs’ song, does it resemble the sound of sleigh bells? Does the volume change as you move closer to the wet areas? Can you spot the performers, or see any eggs in the water? Soak up the sights, smells and sounds of nature in spring.