Saturday, April 26, 2008

Jeepers, Creepers!

High: 64° F
Low: 36° F
Conditions: Brilliantly sunny and mild.
It’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?
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.


jan said...

Just curious if the male peepers spring for dinner or anything.

Island Rambles Blog said...

Well they certainly are noisy in the video....I just notices Ari's blue eyes....she is such a beauty...Can you imagine what that would sound like to her!!!

The Army of Four said...

When Mom hit the video to play it, Amber ran to the front door! She must have been checking our place for peepers! Ha roo roo roo!
We learn SO much from your blog! Thank you for writing it!
Tail wags,

Khyra The Siberian Husky said...

Yum - frog legs!

Taste like chikhken !

That's okay, next year you khan both do the salamander khrossing guard gig AND the night owl listen!

PeeEssWoo: or do they taste like khat?

The Daily Echo said...

Whoa! They are noisy little fellas! It's a good thing there's no noise ordinance in those woods. We're enjoying watching your environment come out of hibernation!

Kathiesbirds said...

What an interesting post. "Everything you always wanted to know about pond sex but were afraid to ask!" Love the spring chorus but next time move the camera a bit more slowly! You were making me dizzy! Still, I'm glad you captured that riotous spring sound! No peep frogs here in the desert so I'll just have to enjoy yours!

Mary said...

I came here from Kathie at Sycamore Canyon. I enjoyed this post so much! I, too, have been observing frog sex lately. Your info on the peepers is amazing.


Jan's Funny Farm said...

After reading this, we're sure glad we're not frogs.

To answer your question, this litter delivery was a one time freebie. If Jan had to pay shipping charges for our litter, she would be out in the wee hours digging up fresh dirt from the neighborhood yards.

And thanks, we'll be sure to forward your comment to the Tony committee. Perhaps we'll win this year. :)

Holly said...

Wow, that sure is loud! I can see why it botheres Ari.

Are you sure you live in Maine, and not the swamps of Louisianna?


chasingsquirrelswithrusty said...

Those frogs you were writing about sounded really interesting. Mom was reading to me and I heard them. I think some of them were in my house but I couldn't find them. Then they all stopped peeping.

scierzan said...

Hi Ari and Kathryn,

The Morton Arboretum hosts a few annual spring peeper performances. This year they were so loud one day that I saw people actually running away from one of the small ponds. (And after I walked past, my ears rang for about half an hour!)

I also have not ever been able to catch sight of the frog, only the egg sacs. But I'm determined to keep looking...


Turbo the Sibe said...

Lex is scared of the peepers!

Eve said...

Great read on the noisy little buggars!! I decided to go with your theme today Kathryn. It's hard not to have frogs on the mind this time of year!!! Now where are my ear plugs......

Sandpiper said...

Fantastic post! I loved all of your pictures and the peeper sounds in the video. Last year I watched two male frogs who were trying to mate with a female. The next day, I found her dead, poor thing.

Eve said...

Wonderful post...the sex ed was a little disturbing...hahahaha! I'll work on getting a hard could it be!!! My pond isn't THAT big and there are TONS out there!!! Or at least it sounds like tons!!
You guys have a great day!

Gunner said...

Ari, very cool stuff indeed. My mom loves the peepers and misses our 'peeper gang' at our old house.

We had really cool lizards there too but a big alligator lizard tried to bite me on the nose once and kinda scared me.


JB's Big World said...

That sure sounds like a lot of peepers. Ari will probably be more interested when the eggs become peepers, I would think.

Maverick the Pirate said...

Harrrr Ari
that is funny frogsicles Harr Harr Harr
Cap'n Maverick the Pirate

Flori said...

Our small pond is full of these wonderful creatures. You might ask yourself where on earth they disappear to after maturing...
Ari, wouldn't you like to come to my blog and sign my guestbook with your lovely photo?

Lots of woowoos from Floriuzoe

Gus and Louie said...

We have many toads in our backyard. Louie has already found out that they are not to play with. The other morning he came in foaming at the mouth and spitting. Dad thinks maybe he has learned his lesson but we will see..

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus and Louie

Me & my puppies said...

Kathryn and Ari ~ I left something for you over at my place and there is no one more deserving.

powder-puff said...

Hey Ari!!

Wow those sure are some noisy peepers!!

I started howling whenever the video started palying!!

lots of love!

Simba said...

Just dropping by everyones blogs to say Hi.

Simba xx

John Theberge said...

I did make it out onto the river on Sunday and ended up seeing a bald eagle but no ospreys. I also saw a few nesting Canada geese. I don't know if the eagles are nesting this year, they took a break last year. It was about three miles away from the nest where I saw the eagle on Sunday. Maybe on the next trip I'll make my way down to where the nest is.

Stacey Huston said...

Kathryn,thanks so much for the visit. I can easily see why recieved the reward. Great site here and I can't wait to check it out more in depth.. thanks for sharing

Kapp pack said...

Very cool stuff!

Woo woo, Kelsey Ann

umekotyan said...

Good evening Ari.
Frog's singing voice is heard.
There is an interesting thing in Japan.
It is assumed to frog's companion's Gama Frog's the vulnerary.
Then, there was business that sold the oil of Gama Frog's in old times.
JIRAIYA There is an interesting story, too. :)

from loved ume tyan