Jeepers, Peepers!

Last Thursday evening, Uzzi and I were hunkered down for the night, chewing cud and gazing up at the rising full moon, when Uzzi said, "What’s that?”

by Martok
Spring peeper
Courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
Uzzi and I hear the spring peepers singing songs on the farm. Spring must be near!

Last Thursday evening, Uzzi and I were hunkered down for the night, chewing cud and gazing up at the rising full moon, when Uzzi said, “What’s that?”

We both stopped chewing and lifted our ears a little bit so we could hear. (You’ve got to do that when you’re a Nubian goat.) Frogs! There were frogs singing their merry chorus down by our pond in the hollow. Last week, we were snowed in; this week, it’s really spring!

Uzzi and I were so excited we crept in the house and booted up the computer to see what we could learn about our frogs. We listened to sound files until we identified them; they’re spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer). 

Spring peepers are common throughout the eastern United States and Canada. There are two subspecies, the northern spring peeper and the southern spring peeper. The southern version has a belly marking the northern one doesn’t, and it’s only found in southern Georgia and northern Florida.

The ones in our pond are northern spring peepers. They’re little bitty, brown to olive-green frogs only an inch or so long, with yellowish underbellies and a darker, X-like marking on their backs. Females are usually a little bigger and lighter-colored than males. They have big toe pads for climbing and expandable vocal sacs at their throats. Only males sing, and they do it to attract mates. Scientists say females prefer males with the loudest voices.

Peepers live in damp, overgrown meadows or woodlands near swamps, temporary pools and ponds. They mate in water and that’s where they lay their eggs—as many as 900 pinhead-size eggs per clutch. After that, adults spend their summer in woodlands, eating beetles, ants, flies, mites and spiders. When winter comes, they hibernate under logs or loose bark on trees until the following spring; they can even survive if some of their body fluids are frozen! They’re nocturnal frogs, often heard but rarely seen.  

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Spring peepers are the first frogs to emerge in the spring, shortly after the last round of snow and ice is gone and nighttime temperatures climb to around 50 degrees F. Some people think their high-pitched peeping sounds like sleigh bells; males also trill to warn other males to bug off. Peepers mostly sing in the spring, but they sometimes sing on warm, rainy days in the summertime, too. 

Spring peepers live up to three years in the wild but only if they’re really lucky—lots of woodland birds and beasts like to eat them. Turtles think their eggs are yummy and fish and wading birds eat spring peeper tadpoles. Snakes, raccoons, herons, egrets, minks and even bigger frogs savor adults. Everything seems to eat spring peepers. Makes me glad I’m a big, studly Nubian goat!

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