Sunday, March 30, 2014

Frogs put on show with singing, mating

Before it sings its distinctive throaty notes, a Western chorus frog puffs its throat pouch

COLUMBUS DISPATCH
March 30, 2014

NATURE
Jim McCormac

After the long, brutal winter, the spring explosion of frogs has been especially welcome.

March is the transitional period when Mother Nature struggles to throw off the shackles of winter. Bit by bit, the days lengthen, and warm and icy waterscapes thaw.

The frogs aren’t a species to be contained. With even the faintest hope of open water, frogs emerge from hibernation and set to song.

Leading the charge are Western chorus frogs and spring peepers. The two species create a distinctive wall of sound in our wetlands. The tiny peepers’ shrill birdlike whistles fill the air, and a vociferous pack can be heard from great distances.

Mixed with the peepers are the distinctive throaty notes of Western chorus frogs. The male puffs his elastic throat pouch to impossible dimensions. It is as if the inch-and-half amphibian has swallowed a golf ball. When fully engorged with air, the pouch looks about the same size as the frog.

Once primed, the frog issues a guttural creaking aria often likened to the sound made by running a finger down the teeth of a comb. Remember that metaphor and you’ll never mistake the chorus frog’s song.

Air temperature influences the speed of the frog’s song. On a warm evening, its notes zip along speedily. In cooler weather, the cadence slows significantly. If the thermometer dips into the 40s, the song barely sputters along, and individual notes can easily be discerned.

Successful songsters attract females, and the amorous couple locks together in an embrace known as amplexus. The freshly fertilized female then deposits gelatinous egg clusters on aquatic vegetation; each cluster contains as many as 300 eggs.

A week or so later, tiny tadpoles burst from the eggs. About two to three months after hatching, the tadpoles metamorphose into frogs and leave the water.

Except during the spring breeding frenzy, Western chorus frogs typically live on land and are hard to find.

April is the peak month to take in the spectacle of frog mating orgies.

In addition to the chorus frogs and spring peepers, several other species can easily be found. They include American bullfrog, green frog, and Northern leopard frog. American toads are often part of the scene.

All of these amphibians are common in most of the state.

Franklin County Metro Parks support many fine amphibian habitats.

A “Secret Swamp” hike will be held on April 5 at Slate Run Metro Park, and a “Frog Frenzy” program will take place on April 19 at Prairie Oaks Metro Park. Both should produce plenty of frogs.
For more information, call 614-891-0700 or visit www.metroparks.net.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first and third Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.

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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have finally been hearing the spring peepers down here in Washington County. They defiantly signal spring and after this winter I have been sooo looking forward to hearing them. Love listening to them. Lori Marietta

Julie Zickefoose said...

Jim, Lang Elliott identified our chorus frogs in Washington Co. near the Noble Co. line as mountain chorus frogs. He made his first recording of them on our place, in fact. Can you tell me a bit about the distribution/difference? He said mountain chorus frogs are fairly local and special to this part of the world. They're going great guns now at last, after the recent rain. And we're about to get more rain. Yay!

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks for your comment Lori. Julie, I only know the Mountain Chorus Frogs from Scioto and Adams counties, but there are records from most of the hill country counties, including Noble and Washington, obviously. From my limited experience, it is an animal of small woodland pools and seeps, while the Western Chorus Frog often occurs in profusion in large open marshes. I've never heard the two together, and would be interested to know if they ever occupy the same wetlands.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Thank you, Jim! Mt. Chorus are real "ditch frogs" here. I find them in wheel ruts on wooded logging roads, some alarmingly small and shallow. Over the years I have moved many an egg mass and bucket of tads into better pools before they dry up, and to my delight have managed to spread them all over our property that way. For my part I'm unfamiliar with Western Chorus Frog, large open marshes being in very short supply here in SE OH.

Jim McCormac said...

Yes, I've seen them breeding a lot in little more than roadside ruts, too. I suspect they can go from egg to tadpole to frog in fairly short order. Here's a piece I wrote about them last year, breeding in just such a place: http://jimmccormac.blogspot.com/2013/04/mountain-chorus-frog.html