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Spring peepers

Musings from the Hill

I always thought it was a colloquialism.

Once I head the term at all. Or does it truly resonate all the way back to my childhood? I don’t remember any amphibians in North Platte — just sand in that part of Nebraska. I fear California was too densely populated to encourage much of anything in the way of wildlife.

But in springtime here they resound happily. Peepers of course. The official name is Pseudacris crucifer, meaning cross-bearer, named for the dark cross which roughly forms an X on its back.

I suspect most, if not all of us, welcome that happy chirp as the true door opening to spring. Daffodils? Oh, certainly, but how many more times do we figure they need to get snowed on before things really turn green?

Even though cold nights may silence them temporarily, peepers know. And I’m so glad they do. No matter how chilly the night, my window is cranked open so I can enjoy the serenade.

Where are they? The sound reverberates from all sides when I walk Molly. Do they need water to happily survive? Let me find out now.

I reach for the Peterson Guide to Reptiles (Hey! You never know!) and Amphibians.

There are also three kinds of Cricket Frogs. Is that something I should be learning about? It’s so hard to find the maps in Peterson but I do. Nope — I can forget the Cricket Frogs until I get back to Florida.

There are 12 kinds of Chorus Frogs which I find a tantalizing thought, so accustomed are we to a four-part choir. Just imagine!

The Boreal and Upland Chorus Frogs might be around here. (They seem to avoid Buffalo but like the Erie area.) In spite of its name, the Western Chorus Frog is all through the east (only). And of course the Spring Peeper. Only those four can join our chorus here in western New York. Well, that’ll do.

I’ll let Peterson tell us more: “Many persons hear chorus frogs but few ever see them. In the North these are vernal choristers that respond to the first warm rains as spring moves northward. In the South they are ‘winter frogs,’ their breeding season beginning at any time from November to late winter but usually in correlation with cool rains. They sing day or night in or near shallow, often temporary, bodies of water, sometimes in the open, but more often concealed in a clump of grass or other vegetation, where they are extremely difficult to find even when they advertise their presence by calling loudly. They are seldom encountered after the breeding season.”

This is a very small frog, the record being 1 1/2 inches while most are 3/4 to 1 1/4. Besides that cross, it has no distinctive mottling, striping or spots like other members of its genus. Expect it to be olive green . . . or brown or tan or gray or yellow. Females are lighter-colored, while males are slightly smaller and usually have dark throats.

It’s suggested, if you want to see Spring Peepers, you go during the breeding season for, while abundant, they are very shy. But apparently not so shy that they can’t form breeding aggregations of several hundred little frogs. You may find them in many small wetlands, including swamps and temporary pools and ponds which are needed to support the aquatic environment the eggs and tadpoles require. Blessed be our wet spring! They lay 900 to a thousand eggs at a time which, when hatching, support the tadpoles that last for two to three months before being transformed into the frogs who are then ready to head south for the winter.

In very cold weather they can hibernate, freezing some of their bodily fluids. They are able to survive as low as minus eight degrees Centigrade.

They feed mostly at night, particularly enjoying small invertebrates like beetles, ants, flies and spiders.

Need I describe its high-pitched, piping whistle of just one note repeated about once a second? I should have guessed it’s only the boys who “sing” and they — yup — are trying to attract females. One source says its high-pitched call is similar to a young chicken, only louder and rising slightly in tone. A few sources compared it to sleigh bells which I found pretty far-fetched . . . until the next time I listened. Truly, it does. And those calls can be heard up to two and a half miles away, depending on how large their congregation.

Young chicken or, better, sleigh bells, they are always welcomed here.

Susan Crossett has lived in Arkwright for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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