What is one of the best ways to tell spring is on its way? Not by going outside and feeling the weather nor by looking for Witch hazel and daffodils blooming but by closing your eyes and listening. After the ice has thawed from wet spots in the wild, you start to hear an army of frogs. Spring peepers to be exact, and they really pack a punch for their size.
Spring peeper (P. crucifer) Photo courtesy of Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Found all along the eastern U.S. and Canada near wetlands, marshes, and swamps, these little frogs, no bigger than 1.5 inches, produce a sound that can be heard from over a mile away. Spring peepers can be tan, brown, green, or gray. They have a distinct marking on them in the shape of an “X,” which is where the Latin name, P. crucifer, comes from (crucifer meaning cross-bearer). They have large toe pads for climbing, even though they stay mostly stay on the ground to hunt and lay eggs.
These frogs are among the first to start calling right before spring. This can be difficult for other species of animals since there are usually a few days of freezing temperatures left in the season. These special critters are able to produce glucose during freezing conditions to concentrate their body fluids and reduce ice crystal formation. The species is able to live up to three days with the majority of its body frozen.
The sound you hear, like a chorus of tiny sleigh bells, are the mating calls of the male peepers. Once they mate, the female lays around 900 eggs per clutch, under vegetation or debris at the edge of the water. Eggs hatch in about 12 days, and a complete metamorphosis takes about 6-8 weeks. Once these frogs are fully matured, they can live 3-4 years.
While out and about in The Parklands this season make sure to stop and listen. Whether you are riding on the Louisville Loop by the Grand Allee wetlands, hiking through the trails by Miles Lakes or Boulder Pond, or simply driving through Pope Lick Park with your windows down, you will be able to hear the chatter from these peepers all throughout The Parklands of Floyds Fork. Take a walk and see if you can’t spot one of these “loudmouthed” critters with your own eyes.
Story by Corbin Jett, Natural Areas Team Technician