​Just for Kids: The Frog Chorus

By George Steele

Winter has a hold on nature, but spring is coming, triggering changes in the plants and animals that have been inactive all winter. One of the surest signs that spring has sprung: the frog chorus.

The opening choral movement will be the wood frogs with their “pick-it-up” croaks.

​This ducklike quacking might be heard even before the pond ice disappears. They’ll soon be joined by spring peepers and their high shrill peeping whistles. Sometimes the sheer volume will almost be painful to the ear. As the spring moves along two more frogs join in, the green frog and American toad. The green frog song is likened to a plucked banjo string “gungggg,” while the toad does a fast trill. One can imitate this by trying to hum and whistle at the same time.

Warmer temperatures bring out the final performers, the grey tree frogs and bull frogs. The tree frogs are excellent climbers with short chanting trills, often heard high up in trees a good distance from water. Bull frogs, the largest of the frogs at the Arboretum, don’t really go “ribbet”. The closest to that sound would come from the pickerel frog which makes a snoring-like “ribbet”, but I’ve not found it at the Arboretum. The bull frog song is a drawn out “shhhhuggarummm”. Sometimes their calls become syncopated into a roaring rhythm of grunts.

By the way, it’s only the males that are singing. The songs are their way of saying to the females, “check me out, I’m so good lookin’,” attracting females to mate where tadpoles, sometimes called pollywogs, will hatch and grow. The young of peepers, wood frogs and toads grow quickly, often in short lived vernal pools, while the young of green frogs and bull frogs need permanent water bodies as it takes multiple years to transform from the tadpole to the land dweller.

This chorus is an invitation to explore the night, serenaded by these six species. You can further enhance your enjoyment with two exploration strategies. First, search for the glowing eyes of the American toads. When you hear the toads trilling, quietly approach their pond and shine a strong flashlight on the opposite shore. You’ll spot their eyes glowing like little sparkling diamonds. The second is a bit more challenging ̶ triangulating on a singing frog, the peepers being the best ones. You’ll need a team of three, each armed with a flashlight. Agree upon a frog that you’ll approach. With flashlights off, move so that the calling frog is between the three of you, then slowly close in on the spot. If the frog becomes alarmed and pauses, stop and wait. If you haven’t scared it off it will start again shortly. When all of you have closed in to where you feel the frog is, stop and turn on a flashlight aimed at that spot. If you have successfully triangulated it, you can watch it fill its throat sac with air as it readies itself for another blast of song.

So go out and listen for the voices of spring, either on your own or here at Landis when you visit with your family.

Spring 2020

Volume 38 , Number 1

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