High: 64° FIt’s been a busy week for animals in Central Maine. After a rough few days, our salamanders seem to be faring much better, and casualties are becoming more of a rarity each evening. I’m embarrassed to admit that the noble intentions Ari and I had of serving as salamander crossing guards never quite came to fruition: each time it occurred to either one of us, we’d both realize we were too tired and too comfortable in our respective beds to do much about it. Sorry, guys. Maybe next year?
Low: 36° F
Conditions: Brilliantly sunny and mild.
In the meantime, our fickle interest in mating amphibians has shifted to the local frogs in our area. We have three major contenders this time of year: wood frogs (Rana sylvatica), northern leopard frogs (Rana pipiens) and spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer)
Of these three, the peeper is by far and away the most prolific—and the most boisterous. That also makes them our favorites. Normally, we have to wait until well after the sun sets to hear these neighborhood frogs. This year, however, they’ve been getting an early start each day—sometimes as early as 2:00 in the afternoon. The sound is deafening—a single, piercing pitch just out of range of even a coloratura soprano. The din has a throb to it—one that reverberates in my inner ear, sending static all the way down my spine. You can hear our peepers here:
I can’t imagine how this racket sounds to the finely-tuned ear of a caninaturalist. But I do know that, as exuberant as she is about approaching one of the vernal pools frequented by spring peers, she certainly doesn’t want to stay there very long.
That’s her choice. Personally, I could spend the whole day immersed in interesting frog facts. Like this one: during winter and spring, spring peepers actually freeze solid: like little frogcicles, as it were. Luckily, the high level of glucose in their systems works as a kind of antifreeze, preventing cell walls from bursting from the expanding ice. I find that amazing.
Now fully thawed, our neighborhood peepers compete with one another to attract a remaining female. Once they settle on their seasonal partner, an aggressive mating process will begin. Frogs sex is known to scientists as amplexus, which translates from Latin as “to braid.” It is clearly not for the faint of heart.
From the time they thaw, peepers rush the mating ritual. They’re the first to arrive at the pond—often showing up too early and returning to frogcicles on icy tree branches. Once established, males are so zealous in their attempt to jumpstart the process that groups of them will mob a single female, drowning her in the process. Most males have also developed large callouses on their thumbs that allow them to hold females more firmly. As a result, a pair of mating peepers will remain entwined for up to four hours—much of it underwater. The female will lay anywhere between 800 and 1800 eggs, each one fertilized by her partner before being planted on submerged vegetation. (note to humans: our dating rituals are not nearly as barbaric as we may be inclined to believe).
Try as we might, Ari and I have not been able to see a single peeper: they’re just too good at camouflage. But we are starting to find these little egg sacks in the pools and puddles out in the forest:
That tiny black dot is a nucleus—kind of like a miniature egg yolk, though probably a lot less tasty for both humans and caninaturalists alike.
I'm guessing here, of course. To be honest, neither of us are can confirm for sure: Ari doesn’t seem interested enough in the eggs to try, and I just can’t get up the nerve. I guess, all things considered, I rather see that crazy spring chorus grow.