Saturday, February 26, 2011

Frogs are nearly upon us

Come spring, and a boy's thoughts turn to frogs. At least mine do. Here in Ohio, we're still locked in winter's last gasps. It snowed a fair bit yesterday, and temperatures are projected to plummet to 19 degrees tonight in Columbus. But at this time of year, it's as if Mother Nature is shaking out a huge blanket, trying to cast off those last bits of sleety snowy nastiness and clean the sheet for spring.

March becomes a roller coaster ride of meteorological ups and downs, yo-yoing between winter/spring, winter/spring. Come Monday, it's supposed to hit near 60, but then plunge to much cooler temps again for a few days.

But the froggy set doesn't need much encouragement to float to the top of pools and ponds and start to do their thing. In fact, there have already been numerous reports of Spring Peepers piping up on the few warm days we've had thus far.

Within the next week or so, the outrageously loud vocalizations of Spring Peepers will resonate from wet spots throughout much of Ohio. These tiny blowhards are incredibly, nearly unbelievably, noisy. Many is the time I have stood in the midst of an ephemeral pool fueled by spring rains with legions of peepers peeping all about. Their calls are so loud and of such pitch as to be nearly painful. Males, such as the one above in full tune, must either be deaf at certain frequencies or possess a shutoff valve that clamps over their hearing organs when in song.

A tip for observing these suction-footed little charmers. If you detect a pool full of peepers, wade on in. All the frogs will instantly shut off upon your approach, as if waved to silence by some amphibious symphony conductor's baton. Stand still and patient, and within a few minutes the peepers will begin popping to the surface all around you, and resume their singing. It's a rather magical experience and the way to experience firsthand the full brunt of their wall of sound.

A common companion of Spring Peepers is this tri-striped little beauty, the Western Chorus Frog. It is sometimes called the Striped Chorus Frog and I think that I prefer that moniker. This one was photographed on a warm rainy night in early March of last year, in Logan County, Ohio. Their song is quite easy to learn and one that I'm sure you've heard if you live in the eastern half of North America. A Western Chorus Frog sounds like someone running their fingernail down the teeth of a comb, but piped through a stack of Marshall amps. The colder it is, the slower the frog runs through its scale. Their coarse raspy trills offer an interesting musical punctuation to the high-pitched birdlike notes of the peepers.

This is it - the world's toughest frog. No amphibian ranges further north than does the Wood Frog, and I'm sure that they've already been into breeding pools at least in southern Ohio. Wood Frogs literally have "anti-freeze" pumping through their system. The frog uses urea and glucose to create so-called cryoprotectants that allow it to re-thaw itself after being frozen nearly stiff.

Wood Frogs are wonderful ambassadors for vernal pools in this part of the world. Small wooded pools that flood with early spring rains are where most of our Wood Frogs go to breed, and seeing a pack of them going ape in a small vernal pool is truly a sight. From afar, the male's collective singing sounds like the quacks of a distant flock of Mallards.

If you'd like to learn more about vernal pools and all of the fascination that they offer, the Ohio Environmental Council is offering a couple of educational workshops. DETAILS ARE HERE. The OEC also has produced a fabulous new Guide to Vernal Pools, and I'm sure they'll have it available at the workshops, or you can score it through their website.


Anonymous said...

No matter how long I have stared I have never seen either one of these frogs. Are they in water or in the trees? I think I will never know. I am beginning to doubt they really exist and that the noise is just my imagination.

Kenn Kaufman said...

Great post -- entertaining and informative as always! Since I moved here from the desert about six years ago, one of the things I've enjoyed most about Ohio is the chance to get acquainted with more frogs and other amphibians.

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks much, Kenn. We are awaiting your field guide to amphibians and reptiles.

Hi Anonymous. They're there, but adept at not being seen. The three species in this blog post sing either in the water, or clamber slightly out of the water onto plants. See my tip in the blog for finding them.

Beyond My Garden said...

I can't wait. I miss the frogs and have been surprised not to have heard the peepers yet. We usually have at least 1 warm, wet evening bynow.

OpposableChums said...

That first pic is almost as unbelievable as the racket he was probably making at the time.

Buckeyeherper said...

No movement or "peeps" here in the Detroit area yet, but it sounds like a decent movement of amphibians got underway last weekend in southern Ohio. I miss my old haunts greatly... Thanks for sharing an early chorus, I will likely miss all the migrations this year.

Lisa Beck said...

So COOL I just found a wood frog here in pa.